Rape Survivor Family Protection Act
Legislation has been introduced in Maryland to create a process to terminate the parental rights of rapists when a child is conceived as a result of rape. About 5% of women of reproductive age who are raped become pregnant as a result, with about 38% carrying a child to term. The legislation, introduced by Delegate Kathleen Dumais, Vice-Chair of the House Judiciary Committee, and Senators Brian Feldman and Susan Lee would set up a process that permits rape survivors to file a complaint in family court and requires a judge to hold a trial and make a decision promptly.
The bill’s 2016 lead sponsor, Congressman Jamie Raskin, explained his reasons for championing the bill, “State family law should be on the side of women and their children who are working, against great odds, to recover their sense of security, dignity, and stability after the trauma of rape. Maryland should not grant sexual assailants presumptive and categorical paternity rights without giving women the chance to show by clear and convincing evidence that they were impregnated by acts of sexual assault.” Other states have also reported practical concerns. In North Carolina, press reports describe cases where victims wanted to place children conceived through rape up for adoption and the rapist threatened not to terminate his parental rights unless the victim agreed not to press criminal charges.
The legislation would require “clear and convincing evidence” that the child was conceived as a result of sexual assault and that it is in the best interest of the child to terminate parental rights. This standard of proof is higher than the normal civil standard—“by a preponderance of the evidence”—and is the standard used in all other family law contexts for the judicial termination of parental rights.
Advocates strongly object to requiring a conviction in these cases. “Only about 3.3% of rapes result in a conviction, and we don’t require a conviction in other termination of parental rights cases involving crimes,” said Lisae C. Jordan, Executive Director and Counsel for the Maryland Coalition Against Sexual Assault (MCASA). “Rape victims should have to meet the same standard used in other termination of parental rights cases – no more, no less.”
In 2016, under the leadership of the bill’s sponsors and with the support of a wide variety of organizations and individuals, this bill moved further than it ever has before. Already this year, the bill is on the Maryland Legislative Agenda for Women, and has the support of the Maryland Coalition Against Sexual Assault, the National Association of Social Workers, Women’s Law Center, and the Maryland State’s Attorney’s Association. It is disappointing that the Rape Survivor Family Protection Act did not pass in 2016, but this year we have an opportunity to pass it and help rape victims who become pregnant as a result of rape.
HB 428 – Presented to the House on Jan. 26, 2017
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