Singer Toni Braxton is getting a lot of attention for her new book, Unbreak My Heart, and not all of it is good. The R&B mainstay and reality TV star has become something of a star among anti-abortion conservatives, and a subject of ire among autism advocates, over widely-and-sketchily-reported remarks in her book explaining that when she learned of her son's autism diagnosis, she thought it was "God's payback" for an abortion she had years earlier. Is what she really said about her son's autism as bad as people think it is, or worse?
The answer is a little bit complicated, because the quotes that are being pulled from the book are definitely not being fairly contextualized. Here's how TheBlaze reported them, based on a New York Daily News article:
The singer found herself wondering whether Diezel’s autism was God’s retribution for her decision to end the earlier pregnancy and whether her parents’ messy divorce and her lupus diagnosis in 2010 were additional punishments.
“Is God punishing me for that abortion?,” she writes in the book, noting that she found herself thinking that it was “God’s payback to give my son autism.”
That reporting has caused a social media backlash against Braxton, and rebuttals from autism advocates. Not helping matters is the fact that Braxton has repeated the tale in a series of interviews promoting her book, and didn't bother to explain if, how, or why she was wrong to think that. She even told The View's shitshow autism parent Jenny McCarthy that she still struggles with the guilt:
However, the actual passage from the book seems to indicate Braxton realizes this was an irrational belief:
My initial rage was quickly followed by another strong emotion: guilt. Is God punishing me for that abortion? That's the question that ran through my head the moment I heard the diagnosis. Autism wasn't being discusses as much back then as it is now-and because I knew so little about it, I imagined the worst. I also started to go back through my mental files to see if I could connect Diezel's autism with anything I'd done. I know it might sound outlandish to some people, but I actually blamed myself. I knew I'd taken a life-so I believed that God's payback was to give my son autism.
Braxton has responded to the criticism on Twitter by explaining that she used to think that her son's autism was a punishment from God, but no longer does. What isn't quite so clear is what she does think now. Later in the book, she writes "I have sometimes wondered whether God was punishing me for the abortion I had years ago by allowing my son to have autism. Or by giving me so many health issues. Or by having my parents go through such a painful divorce," and then explains "I know God had nothing to do with those situations."
So, it seems Braxton still views these events as punishments, things which were inflicted on Toni Braxton, just not by God. Poorly-reported quotes notwithstanding, Braxton seems to have earned responses from autism advocates like this one:
Theres nothing wrong with us. My friends on the spectrum do face a constant barrage of hardships that most neurotypicals will never fully understand, and I recognize the pain and the feeling of helplessness they cause the people that love us, but its not our fault, and Its not yours either. No one wants to feel like their very existence is punishment for people they care about and love.
Even if Braxton has begun to realize that autism might not be a punishment from God, you'll never guess what she does chalk it up to, maybe, she's just asking. From Unbreak My Heart:
There have been so many debates about whether vaccines have caused an explosion in the number of autism cases, The drug companies insist that no findings link immunization and autism. Perhaps there isn't a link. Maybe it's just a coincidence that after my son's first MMR vaccine, I began to notice changes in him.
Oh, for fuck's sake. Actually, no, Ms. Braxton, it isn't "drug companies" insisting there's no link, it's all of the scientists!
This portion of her book is of a piece with Jenny McCarthy's new fallback strategy to try and seem less crazy, but Toni Braxton has been on board the anti-vax train for years, along with other toxic autism parents. Given the choice, I'd almost rather she blamed God. At least He won't give the whole school measles.