Maryland Governor Larry Hogan signed emergency legislation into law last week making it possible for rape victims to terminate the parental rights of their assailants.
It took over a decade for the landmark legislation to successfully make it through both houses of the Maryland General Assembly, according to the Capital Gazette.
“It brings Maryland in line with 25 other states that permit termination of parental rights because the child was conceived as the result of rape,” Lisae Jordan, an attorney and the director of the Maryland Coalition Against Sexual Assault, told The Western Journal.
Prior to the Tuesday passage of the Rape Survivor Family Protection Act, the biological father of a child conceived by rape still had legal custody rights in Maryland, potentially allowing the assailant to become involved with adoption decisions — among other issues.
The 2018 legislation received bipartisan support.
However, reception of the bill wasn’t always so positive — as evidenced by the decade-long fight to get it passed.
Part of that reluctance seemed to stem from the fact that the law does not require a rape conviction in order for parental rights to be terminated.
“Unfortunately I think that there was a real concern that women would lie and that was the driving factor behind why it didn’t pass for so long,” Jordan said.
The newly passed law allows a woman to pursue a civil proceeding and ask the court to find that her child was conceived through rape — regardless of whether or not there was a criminal conviction.
The law does require “clear and convincing evidence,” which is a lower standard than the “beyond a reasonable doubt” test used in criminal cases, according to the Gazette.
“Clear and convincing evidence is a higher standard of proof than other family law cases. And it is the same standard of proof that we use in other termination of parental rights cases, for instance, cases involving child abuse,” explained Jordan.
Moreover, she stressed that the new legislation simply gives a woman the right to go to court, but does not automatically grant a specific outcome.
“It was over 10 years of work on this bill in order to push it through, and it is tragic for women that became pregnant as result of rape during that more than a decade and had absolutely no legal recourse,” Jordan said.
“It is important to remember that this bill does nothing automatically. All it does is give women access to the court so the court proves this happened, and (ensures they) have the same evidentiary rules, standards and proof as any other litigant,” she added.
Maryland Del. Kathleen Dumais — who introduced the legislation in 2007 and has supported it since, expressed satisfaction regarding Tuesday’s outcome.
“It has been quite a journey pushing this legislation through over the past 10 years. I have been the primary sponsor in the House of Delegates and first introduced the bill in 2007. The bill creates a court process for access to the court to request termination of parental rights if the child was conceived as a result of a non-consensual sexual act (rape),” the Montgomery County delegate said in an emailed statement to The Journal.
“I am pleased that the bill finally successfully passed and is now law in Maryland. It is an important step for victims of rape,” she added.
According to a 2017 report from Fox News, lack of legislation protecting the parental rights of rape victims could increase the chances that a woman chooses abortion in the event of a pregnancy resulting from rape. As a result, the Rape Survivor Family Protection Act was supported by groups on both sides of the abortion debate.
Fox noted that during the 2017 legislative session, the Maryland bill was backed by the likes of the Maryland Catholic Conference and Planned Parenthood of Maryland.
As of April 2017, there were six other states who did not have laws ensuring that assailants didn’t have parental rights over children conceived through rape — Alabama, Mississippi, Minnesota, North Dakota, Wyoming and New Mexico.
In Maryland, due to passage of the new law, termination of parental rights also means termination of parental responsibilities.
“(S)pecifying that a termination of parental rights terminates completely certain rights and the parent’s responsibility to support the child, including payment of child support; requiring the court to refer an unrepresented parent to legal services or to appoint counsel,” the bill’s synopsis reads.
Laws surrounding the termination of parental rights for rapists vary widely. Some states — such as Arkansas and California — do allow for the solicitation of child support even after parental rights have been terminated, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Caterine DeCicco is The Western Journal’s Washington D.C. video producer.
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