MARYLAND’S HOUSE Judiciary Committee has long reigned in Annapolis as champion slayer of worthy bills. Particularly vulnerable were measures to protect victims of crime, including those of domestic and sexual abuse. But this year the crown for killing off legislation designed to help vulnerable women shifted to the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee and its chairman, Robert A. “Bobby” Zirkin (D-Baltimore County).
The Rape Survivor Family Protection Act, sponsored by Del. Kathleen M. Dumais (D-Montgomery) and Sen. Jamie B. Raskin (D-Montgomery), would have allowed a woman who becomes pregnant as the result of rape to petition a court to terminate the parental rights of her assailant. Despite widespread support — with 33 senators and 78 delegates signing on as co-sponsors and endorsement of groups as disparate as NARAL and Maryland Right to Life — the bill died Monday during the final hours of the legislative session.
For the first time since it was introduced nine years ago, the bill made it out of the unforgiving House Judiciary Committee and went on to pass the full House unanimously. But the Senate committee delayed consideration until the session’s last week and then, in the view of Ms. Dumais, “massacred” it with amendments that stripped out protections for victims and layered in additional provisions to benefit assailants. Most damaging, a separate bill was attached to the measure as a kind of poison pill. When it appeared that legislators would attempt to repair the bill on the Senate floor, Mr. Zirkin ensured it could not be debated or voted on.
Mr. Zirkin defended the amendments and told us he is disappointed about the outcome, noting his support for the measure in past years. “Nobody thinks that someone who is a rapist should have parental rights. I mean, that’s insane,” he told the Baltimore Sun. It’s hard to square that professed enthusiasm with the demise once again of a bill that had been introduced in 2007, 2008, 2009, 2013, 2014 and 2015.
The result: In Maryland, a rape victim who becomes pregnant as a result of the assault and wants to put the baby up for adoption will have to get the attacker to sign off. If she decides to raise the child, she may have to deal with the rapist over custody and visitation. Mr. Zirkin got one thing right: That is insane. Let’s hope, if he means what he says, that he proves a more adept legislator next year.