Silver Spring, MD — 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 Senator Jamie Raskin, Chair of the Senate Executive Nominations Committee, 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.    

Lead sponsor Senator 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 bill is a top priority of the Maryland Coalition Against Sexual Assault and supported by a wide array of organizations and community leaders including Attorney General Brian Frosh, the Women’s Law Center of Maryland, the Maryland Chapter of the National Association of Social Workers, and both pro-choice and anti-abortion advocates.  A majority of both chambers support the bill, with 33 senators and 78 delegates signed on as sponsors.  Despite wide-spread bi-partisan support for several years, this bill has never been voted on by the House Judiciary Committee.  Hearings are scheduled for March 3rd and March 8th.

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.

A new federal law supports this approach.  In 2015, the Rape Survivor Child Custody Act was enacted by Congress and signed by President Obama.  This law provides additional funding to states that allow “the mother of any child that was conceived through rape to seek court-ordered termination of the parental rights of her rapist with regard to that child” based upon “clear and convincing evidence of rape.”

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 other 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.”

MCASA supports legislation that promotes justice for survivors of sexual violence, accountability for offenders, and protection for the general public.  A description of MCASA’s full 2016 legislative agenda can be found at: http://www.mcasa.org/law-public-policy/legislative-agenda/.