When Virginia Del. Bob Marshall publicly stated his desire to defund Planned Parenthood in his state (they receive a whopping $35,000 in Medicaid reimbursements NOT for abortions, but for primary reproductive and sexual health care for women, men and young people), he used his interpretation of certain Biblical passages to justify his positions. He said:
“The number of children who are born subsequent to a first abortion with handicaps has increased dramatically. Why? Because when you abort the first born of any, nature takes its vengeance on the subsequent children,” said Marshall, a Republican.
“In the Old Testament, the first born of every being, animal and man, was dedicated to the Lord. There’s a special punishment Christians would suggest.”
In other words, a disabled child is a punishment from God doled out to the child’s mother for having had a prior abortion. Putting aside the fact that his claim that “the number of children who are born subsequent to a first abortion with handicaps has increased dramatically” has no basis in reality and no evidence-based studies to back it up, let’s examine what these remarks are meant to convey.
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What so many have found offensive is the insensitivity he’s displayed towards disabled children and their mothers. Disabled children are a punishment? And women, these children’s mothers, are characterized as receivers of a “special” type of vengeance?
Although his comments seem particularly hurtful as they pierce the hearts of mothers and disabled people everywhere, this meme is exactly what we’ve come to expect when it comes to issues surrounding women’s bodies, health, and lives. From placing blame upon the victims of rape and sexual assault to declaring that breast cancer is bestowed upon those women who dare to remain childless to deciding that women who don’t remain celibate outside of marriage must pay for their decisions to have sex by carrying a pregnancy to term against their will, right-wing, ultra-extremist Christians have staked their claim on what women can and cannot do with our bodies by endlessly repeating the “you get what’s coming to you” line. In essence, women’s sexual and reproductive capacities are inherently evil and must be delicately controlled by the steady hand of the men who know best.
When it comes to pregnancy prevention and the use of contraception, for example, the Christian right is clear: if women have sex outside of marriage, we must “pay the price.” It’s framed as “living with the consequences of one’s decision” so the paternalistic desire to control women’s bodies is brilliantly turned into a call for women to take personal responsibility but the underlying premise is clear: women must know where our free will begins and our options end. If you are a woman and you commit the “sin” of sex for pleasure, you have given up the “privilege” of bodily autonomy.
In fact, fundamentalist Christian and far-right ideology (which includes the anti-choice movement) is not only against access to abortion. It has become, in recent years, vehemently anti-contraception as well. However, in the various scenarios and protests about these issues, it is never the married, heterosexual woman who is targeted because they are abiding, however superficially, by Judeo-Christian principals.
It’s the young woman, not married, who dares to engage in sex-for-pleasure or finds herself the victim of a rape or sexual assault who is in the cross-hairs of the ultra-right wing’s weapon of choice: shame and blame. It is the woman in Texas in 2004, the victim of a rape, who comes face-to-face with a pharmacist who refuses to fill the legal prescription because “his religion says she shouldn’t have it.” If women dare think we can “get away” with engaging in sex outside of marriage (regardless of ones’ sexual preference), or that we think we are not responsible in some way for the assault upon our body, we are mistaken. For our sins, the wrath of an almighty, angry God will appear in the form of an unintended pregnancy that we should be forced to carry to term. It’s an odd juxtaposition with the public messaging put forth by the ultra-conservative, Christian right that says that no matter what – babies are always a blessing, and that anything we do to prevent that blessing from being bestowed upon us is wrong. It takes only a moment of reflection to realize that what they are really saying is: unintended pregnancy for women who have sex outside of marriage, forced or not, while using birth control or not, is a curse disguised as a blessing for those women who sin.
In a similar sentiment, the spate of bills and laws popping up around the country from Utah’s bill proposed and pushed by right-wing, conservatives that seeks to criminalize women who have miscarriages to “feticide” laws stemming from our Unborn Victims of Violence Act that have been used around the country to punish women who may dare to wittingly or not place their fetus in danger, we codify the Christian right’s patriarchal, anger towards women.
While we may be shocked at Virginia Delegate Bob Marshall’s callousness, it should not surprise anyone who pays attention to the right-wing, anti-choice, Christian conservative messaging and agenda for the women and girls of this country: Do not forget that the reproductive and sexual capacities of the female body are wholly owned and operated by the Christian right acting as ambassadors of a God on the side of the patriarchy.