A bill that would allow female rape victims to legally revoke the parental rights of their assailants passed unanimously in the Maryland State Senate today.
SB2, proposed by Montgomery County state Sen. Brian Feldman, would let courts terminate parental rights of “an individual convicted of or found by clear and convincing evidence to have committed an act of nonconsensual sexual conduct against the other parent that resulted in the conception of a child.”
A key phrase here is “clear and convincing evidence,” a lower burden of proof than the one that exists in criminal court – “beyond a reasonable doubt” – which gives women some added leeway in trying to keep their accused rapists out of their children’s lives.
The Senate voted 45-0 in favor of the bill, to cheers from advocates for rape survivors.
“We are grateful that the Senate has moved Maryland one step closer to giving rape survivors access to the courts to terminate the parental rights of a rapist when a child was conceived through rape,” said Lisae Jordan, executive director and counsel for the Maryland Coalition Against Sexual Assault, in an email to Baltimore Fishbowl. “We look forward to the House taking the same action tomorrow.”
For 10 years, advocates for rape survivors have pushed for such a change to state law. But legislators and other opponents raised concerns about passing a law that would effectively revoke the parental rights of someone for a crime they may not have been convicted of.
Maryland is currently one of only six states that doesn’t allow women to terminate the parental rights of their accused rapists. In the current system, victims oftentimes must face their accusers in court to negotiate custody.
A similar proposal nearly made it to the governor’s desk last spring, but floundered on the final day of the General Assembly session, when an all-male committee of lawmakers failed to iron out the differences between House and Senate versions of the bill before midnight.
But that shortcoming pushed lawmakers to submit the proposal as emergency legislation in this year’s session — as early as last August — meaning the law would take effect as soon as Gov. Larry Hogan signs it.
Hogan himself has voiced support for the legal change. “No rapist should be allowed to maintain their right as a parent, and no victim should ever be forced to interact with their attacker,” he remarked at a press conference earlier this month.
HB1, the House of Delegates’ version of the proposal, passed out of committee today, and is expected to go before the full House tomorrow. All but one of the chamber’s delegates have co-sponsored the bill, meaning its odds of passage right away are strong.
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