A Maryland bill that would allow women who become pregnant as a result of a rape to terminate their attackers’ parental rights has received key legislative support and, after nine years of failed attempts, appears likely to be approved next year.
Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert) said last week on social media that he plans to co-sponsor the bill during the next legislative session, which begins in January.
"I have shared publicly and privately my disappointment that the Rape Survivor Family Protection Act did not make it to the floor until Sine Die and did not pass the Legislature in time," Miller wrote on Facebook. "Senate Democratic leadership is going to make clear this [is] a priority and the bill will be taken up early."
Miller said he would co-sponsor the bill when the legislature reconvenes in January and would make it a top priority, to “make sure victims of rape are protected and not forced to co-parent with their rapist.”
Earlier this month, House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel) said he also planned to co-sponsor the bill and said it would be a top priority in the new session
Montgomery County Democrats Del. Kathleen M. Dumais and Sen. Brian J. Feldman have been lead sponsors on the legislation for years.
“This protection is long overdue and victims of sexual assault need us to take action,” Busch wrote on Facebook.
Almost 25 other states have passed similar laws.
The Maryland bill most recently died on the final day of the 2017 session, after key members of a conference committee panel could not reach a compromise over the House and Senate versions.
Advocates were outraged that two committee chairmen who appointed the conference panel did not include female lawmakers in the group and waited until the end of the 90-day session to try to resolve the differences in the House and Senate versions.
Much of last year’s debate on the bill centered around whether an alleged rapist would have to be criminally convicted to have his parental rights revoked. About 20 of the states who have such a bill require a rape conviction before terminating parental rights.
Advocates argued that Maryland allows parental rights to be terminated in child-abuse cases even when there is no criminal child-abuse conviction. The same standard should apply, they say, in cases of sexual assault.
Under the bill, a woman who sought to terminate a man’s parental rights would have to prove through “clear and convincing evidence,” the standard used in civil court, that the man had sexually assaulted her. The burden-of-proof standard is higher in criminal court, where charges must be proved “beyond a reasonable doubt.”
With days left in the 2017 session, the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee struck language from the bill that said that courts could not require publication of the name of the mother or child in such cases and added language that said the father could refuse to testify or offer evidence in court. The amendment forced the need for the conference committee.
Jake Weissmann, deputy chief of staff for Miller, said Monday that there were no details available about a compromise bill, just a commitment that “we’re going to get this done.”
Lisae C. Jordan, executive director of the Maryland Coalition Against Sexual Assaults, said it has been “incredibly frustrating and disappointing” over the past decade to tell women who were raped and got pregnant “that the law is not there for them.”
“I look forward to the time when we can explain how the law can help women in their situation,” she said.