MARYLAND’S LAW granting parental rights to rapists has long been a source of embarrassment. Samantha Bee publicly ridiculed the state on “The Daily Show” in 2015, and groups as disparate as Planned Parenthood and Maryland Right to Life have supported reform. Some legislators have been trying for a decade to bring Maryland into line with other states, with bipartisan support. But the General Assembly again this year adjourned without taking action. That means that a woman who becomes pregnant as the result of rape will still be faced with having to negotiate with her assailant over custody or put the child up for adoption.
“Insane” is how Robert A. Zirkin (D-Baltimore County), chairman of the Maryland Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, described the situation last year when legislation died in the final days of the legislature. He promised to make the issue a priority — that this year would be different. And this year, for the first time, the House and Senate unanimously approved legislation that would establish a court process for a woman to seek termination of parental rights of a rapist-father. Yet amazingly the bill died again, at the close of the session, as the two chambers failed to reconcile differences in their two versions of the bill.
Advocates complained that Mr. Zirkin delayed in appointing members to a conference committee. They noted that neither he nor Joseph F. Vallario Jr. (D-Prince George’s), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, named a single woman to the conference committee. “Chairman Zirkin knows how to pass a bill and how to kill one. If he wanted the Rape Survivor Family Protection Act to pass, it would have,” Lisae C. Jordan, director of the Maryland Coalition Against Sexual Assault, told the Baltimore Sun. Mr. Zirkin did not return our call for comment.
Sen. Brian J. Feldman (D-Montgomery), a sponsor, did call us to explain that this is complicated legislation with legal intricacies and that time just ran out. It is an explanation that would be easier to buy if not for the fact that this is the ninth time legislation has been introduced and the fact that there has been extensive study and debate, including collaboration between Del. Kathleen M. Dumais (D-Montgomery), a prime mover for reform, and the Maryland State Bar Association.
Did incompetent leadership or actual animus doom the bill this time around? Neither would be particularly flattering to Mr. Zirkin, Mr. Vallario and their colleagues. But if they would like Marylanders to believe that the death was not intentional, they should ensure that the General Assembly take this matter up if the legislature is called into special session to deal with medical marijuana.