The Ground Rules Explained
Five Maryland legislators could have ended a policy that forces women to share child custody with their rapists. Instead the five legislators, all men, buried the bill.Maryland is one of seven states without a law allowing women to terminate parental rights for their rapists, if their child was conceived as a result of sexual assault, according to reproductive rights organization NARAL. The stateís current policy forces survivors to negotiate child custody and adoption issues with their attacker. In a bid to update the draconian policy, Maryland Delegate Kathleen Dumais introduced legislation that would allow a woman to cut her rapistís parental rights. But while the bill passed both Marylandís House and Senate, the billís text varied between the two legislative bodies. On Monday, the last day of legislative session, a five-person negotiating group was set to decide on the billís final text, the Baltimore Sun reported. Instead, the five-man group let the bill fall by the wayside, running out the legislative sessionís clock without finalizing the billís text.The Maryland General Assemblyís is not scheduled to reconvene until its 2018 session begins on January 10. But for Maryland women with children conceived by rape, the stateís current law can mean situations of urgent danger.ďFor those who choose to carry to term, a woman who becomes pregnant through rape runs therisk that the rapist will assert his parental rights,Ē NARALís Maryland branch wrote in a statement of support for Dumaisís bill. ďIf she chooses to raise the child herself, it couldmean her rapist inserting himself into her life for the next 18 years. The perpetrator may also hinder efforts to place the child up for adoption. In some extreme cases, rapists have onlyagreed to allow an adoption to go forward if the victim promised not to testify against him atTrial.ĒDumais has championed a number of bills advocating for sexual assault survivorsí rights, including a bill passed this session, which clarified that rape survivors do not need to prove they physically resisted an attack in order to prosecute their assailant. But Dumaisís parental rights bill has proved tougher to pass. The Maryland delegate has attempted to pass eight previous versions of the bill, all of which failed in the General Assembly. During the 2017 legislative session, the bill seemed closer to law than ever before, with versions passing both the House and the Senate, before a technicality sunk it for the ninth time.The billís text, as approved by the House and Senate, varied significantly between the two legislative bodies, with differences including the conditions under which a parent could terminate the other parentís parental rights, and the childís legal rights during court proceedings. In order to move on for approval by Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, the bill would need its text finalized by a small negotiating committee comprised of six delegates and six senators.But the negotiators, chosen by Democrats Del. Joseph Vallario Jr. and Sen. Robert Zirkin, had unusual demographics for a committee that would rule on a bill that primarily affected womenís rights. The panel consisted entirely of men: Del. David Moon, Del. Brett Wilson, Del. Joseph Vallario Jr., Sen. William Smith, Sen. Robert Zirkin, and Sen. Michael Hough.Moon, a Democrat, told The Daily Beast that he, Smith and Wilson supported and sponsored the bill and that they "were desperately trying to save it in the closing minutes of the session," but that the committee had run out of time.Speaking to the Sun, Vallario defended his decision not to appoint any female legislators to the panel, saying the groupís demographics were entirely coincidental, and that he did not appoint Dumais because the billís primary sponsor would be biased in its favor. Dumais told the Sun that she has previously sat on negotiating committees for bills on which she was the primary sponsors. Neither Dumaisís nor Vallarioís office could be reached for comment by The Daily Beast. When the panel finally convened Monday evening, it was comprised of five men; Vallario, who had appointed himself, sat out on negotiations.But rather than agree on a finalized version of the bill, the five men appeared to strike some kind of bargain, the Baltimore Sun previously reported. Republican Sen. Michael Hough announced ďweíre good,Ē before the commission ran out the clock on the legislation. With no revised text with which to present the General Assembly, the bill failed, despite having passed both houses.Dumais reportedly left the session close to tears as the bill she had worked nearly a decade to pass had been abandoned again, this year on a technicality that ran the urgent bill out of time.