For the ninth time, a bill that would have created a process to take away parental rights from a woman's rapist failed to pass Maryland's General Assembly—thanks to a group of male lawmakers. Currently, if a woman conceives a child as a result of a sexual assault, she has to contend with her alleged attacker over custody rights or adoption planning.
Two versions of the bill, dubbed the Rape Survivor Family Protection Act, made their respective ways through the House of Delegates and the State Senate. Because the language differed slightly in both bills, a negotiating committee was created on April 10—the last day of the session—from both chambers to finalize the text. No women were appointed to the committee.
Sen. Cheryl Kagan stood over the group, watching. "Although I have great respect for my colleagues, not having women on the committee was tone-deaf," she said.
According to the Baltimore Sun, negotiations ran past 11 PM, and when lawmakers finally compromised, they ran out of time to get a vote from the full body of legislators. Sen. Bobby Zirkin, one of the committee members, attributed the bill's failure to a delay in getting the text printed up quickly enough. It's the second year in a row this bill failed on the last day of session, and won't be revived until the regular session reconvenes on January 10, 2018.
Lisae Jordan is the executive director of the Maryland Coalition Against Sexual Assault (MCASA), which has supported the bill since it was first introduced by Del. Kathleen Dumais 10 years ago. "I think we're both angered and disappointed," she tells Broadly. "There's absolutely no reason that the bill waited so long before a conference committee was appointed. It's very difficult to believe the protestations, that, 'Oh, we couldn't get it printed in time.' The Senate could have moved the bill any time after March 20, and the House could have moved the bill after March 30. Conference committees happen the week before Sine Die (the final day of session)."
She also suggests Sen. Zirkin "continues to have opposition to the fundamental idea of the bill" and as a result, "places roadblocks in its way."
The measure was "extremely balanced," according to Jordan. "The language is very tight. It's been honed and refined," she says. "It clearly separates the family law proceeding from any potential criminal proceeding to allow both parties to speak freely. It's been vetted with the [Maryland State] Bar Association, and of 141 delegates, 94 of them, including the speaker of the house, were co-sponsors. In the Senate, which has 47 members, 36 were on as co-sponsors."
Additionally, both conservative and progressive groups, such as the Maryland Catholic Conference and Planned Parenthood, have come out in support of this bill.
It's traumatic for someone to have to parent with their rapist
According to a statement from NARAL, Maryland is just one of seven states without a law addressing parental rights for rapists in the cases of children conceived during an assault. "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. The perpetrator may also hinder efforts to place the child up for adoption. 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 trial."
About five percent of women of reproductive age who are raped become pregnant as a result, and 38 percent of those will carry a child to term, MCASA reports. "There aren't a huge number of these cases," Jordan says, "but we do find sexual assault survivors who either are in legal battles with their rapists or who are making decisions to terminate pregnancies because of the inadequate support of our laws."
"It's traumatic for someone to have to parent with their rapist," she continues. "It's frightening. It's something that raises concerns about the effect not only on the rape survivor but also on the child. Consider the message that sends."
There's a chance the measure could be reintroduced if Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan calls a special session on medical marijuana. In the meantime, Jordan says they will continue to speak with community groups and lawmakers to express their concerns over this issue. "I think what's frustrating is that leadership does support the bill," she says. "The members of the General Assembly do support the bill."