Delegate Kathleen Dumais

Democrat, Maryland House of Delegates District 15

Like Michigan, rapists have parental rights in Maryland

By Carla Johnson, Baltimore (Opinion)
October 16, 2017

Rape doesn’t make you a father, or at least it shouldn’t in the eyes of the law. Yet, in the last several days, we have learned that a Michigan rapist was awarded joint custody of the child conceived as a result of him raping the mother (Records: Sex offender granted joint legal custody of child,” Oct. 11).

Maryland must face the ugly truth and hold our legislative leaders accountable. This injustice could happen here, too. Because of nine failed attempts to pass a law protecting rape survivors and their children, a rapist whose heinous act results in a pregnancy could be granted the same parental rights as the woman he violated. It’s Maryland law.

Since 2007, our Maryland General Assembly has repeatedly failed to pass legislation that would empower a woman to petition the court to deny her assailant any rights to the child conceived in rape. Consequently, if a Maryland woman chooses to see the pregnancy to term and raise the child, the rapist father can seek custody — just like the rapist father in Michigan. If a Maryland woman wishes to see the pregnancy to term and place the child up for adoption, she may be forced to seek permission from her assailant.

During the 2017 session of the Maryland General Assembly, both the Maryland Catholic Conference and Planned Parenthood supported legislation called “Family Law – Child Conceived Without Consent – Termination of Parental Rights (Rape Survivor Family Protection Act).” The bill also had bipartisan support. Yet, it died late at night in the waning hours of the session. Why? Scheduling. The conference committee was not convened in time to iron out the differences between the House and Senateversions of the bill. It’s not the conference committee members’ fault. Accountability lies with the committee chairs who are responsible for scheduling meetings: Sen. Bobby Zirkin, Chairman of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, and Del. Joseph Vallario, Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.

What can you do? Reach out to Delegate Dumais and offer your support and gratitude for advocating on behalf of these women and children for so many years. Then, call the committee chairmen, Senator Zirkin and Delegate Vallario, who not only schedule the committee meetings, but determine when bills are read on the floor and placed on the vote list. Demand that the Rape Survivor Family Protection Act be priority legislation when the Maryland General Assembly convenes on Wednesday, Jan. 10. Mark it on your calendar. And most importantly, follow up with a phone call. Maryland must learn from the tragedy in Michigan and take immediate action.

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