Maryland lawmakers approved a bill that lets rape victims impregnated during an attack ask a judge to end their assailants’ parental rights.
The Rape Survivor Family Protection Act unanimously passed both chambers of the General Assembly last week. It allows a victim to ask a court to terminate a rapist’s parental rights, even if the attacker hasn’t been convicted of the crime, as long as there’s “clear and convincing evidence” of guilt.
Gov. Larry Hogan indicated in his state of the state address that he would sign the bill.
“No rapist should be allowed to maintain parental rights and no victim should be forced to interact with her attacker,” Hogan said during the address last week. “I commend you for finally passing the Rape Survivor Family Protection Act, and I will sign it into law the moment it reaches my desk.”
Kathleen M. Dumais of the House of Delegates has fought for the legislation to be passed since 2007.
“It has taken a long time to get this through and it’s not a slam dunk, but It gives women access to the courts in these absolutely awful cases,” says Dumais. “There are not a lot of women in this situation, but I’m very pleased that those that now have an avenue that did not exist before.”
Prior to this legislation, women who had been raped and decided to keep the baby had to get consent from their rapists in order to give up the baby for adoption, or if they decided to raise the child their rapist could fight them for custody rights.
There were even cases where these men would use it as a bargaining chip to avoid criminal prosecution, said Dumais. “They would agree to give up their parental rights if the woman agreed not to press charges.”
“It’s going to be an amazing thing to see that our clients get through these cases, and we’ll be able to do something to help,” said Lisae Jordan, director of the Maryland Coalition Against Sexual Assault.
Until the bill’s passage, Maryland was one of only a handful of states that still allow rapists to have parental rights. The others are New Mexico, Wyoming, North Dakota, Minnesota, Mississippi, and Alabama. Mississippi currently has a bill being considered that if passed would make it possible to take away those rights.