A nightmare scenario where a rape survivor will have to seek permission from her rapist in order to gain custody of her child will continue to be law in Maryland as an all-male group of legislators blocked passage of a bill protecting women and their children against rapists’ parental rights Monday.
Both houses had passed a bill proposed by Del. Kathleen Dumais — the Rape Survivor Family Protection Act — which would have allowed a woman who conceives a child through sexual assault to deny her attacker’s claim to custody. Proposed for the second time, it was again held up on the last day of the legislative session by a negotiating group of five male members, who were tasked with revising the text but did not do it in time to present to the legislative bodies.
Defending the fact that no woman was appointed to the committee, Joseph F. Vallario Jr. told the Baltimore Sun the group’s demographics were entirely coincidental. Sen. Bobby Zirkin, chairman of the Judicial Proceedings Committee, also one of the negotiators blamed the print shop in the state house for not printing the bill fast enough to reach the congressional floor.
The bill will now have to wait to reappear on the agenda in the next session of the Maryland General Assembly scheduled for 2018. But in the meantime, the current law poses a threat to sexual assault survivors and their choice of whether to keep their babies or give them up for adoption.
NARAL’s Maryland branch said in a statement in support of Dumais’ bill, “For those who choose to carry to term, a woman who becomes pregnant through rape runs the risk that the rapist will assert his parental rights. If she chooses to raise the child herself, it could mean her rapist inserting himself into her life for the next 18 years. In some extreme cases, rapists have only agreed to allow an adoption to go forward if the victim promised not to testify against him at the trial.”
Maryland, supposedly the fifth most progressive state in the U.S. for women to live and work in, is only one of the seven states that have no laws protecting the rape victim over parental custody and visitation rights, instead granting parental rights to the rapist. According to CNN, Alabama, Minnesota, Mississippi, New Mexico, North Dakota and Wyoming are the other states with no legislation protecting mothers and children who are victims of rape.
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