A shred of justice is finally being restored to women who become pregnant as the result of rape in Maryland.
After nearly a decade of campaigning and nine failed legislative proposals, both the Maryland Senate and House approved a bill allowing courts to terminate the parental rights of rapists to a child conceived as a result of their crime this week, the Baltimore Sun reported.
The bill nearly passed last year, but ultimately died when the all-male panel of lawmakers appointed to reconcile the Senate’s and House’s different versions of the bill failed to do so, the Washington Post reported.
But politicians and advocates have been determined not to let history repeat itself and allow justice to elude victims of sexual assault any longer.
Senate PresidentThomas V. Mike Miller Jr., a Democrat, said he was determined that the bill should pass, and that “If necessary it’s going to be six women on the conference committee somehow to make sure it does pass.”
There are still a few steps left in the process — the Senate and House must still approve each other’s bills and then the governor needs to sign the final bill — but Gov. Larry Hogan has said he “will sign it into law the moment it reaches [his] desk,” the Baltimore Sun reported.
Once official, the law would require a rape victim to provide “clear and convincing evidence” that she was sexually assaulted and that the termination of the perpetrator’s parental rights would be in the best interest of the child, the Washington Post reported. Parental rights can already be similarly terminated in Maryland in instances of child-abuse, even without a criminal conviction.
In seven US states, including Maryland, the law currently does not protect rape victims who are impregnated by their assailants from child custody fights, according to CNN.
While this law represents a major win for rape victims in Maryland, it does not guarantee justice to survivors of sexual assault.
In 2012, 18.2% of women in Maryland said they had been raped or attempted to be raped at some point in their lives, according to government data. And the Maryland Coalition Against Sexual Assault estimates that tens of thousands of children are sexually assaulted in the state every year.
In Maryland, as in several other states, a child can be married before she turns 18 if she is pregnant, even if she is pregnant as a result of rape. This means that a child as young as 15 could be forced to marry her rapist if she is pregnant in Maryland, and that both she and her child might not be protected by this new law.
Bills to end child marriage in the state have been proposed over the last two years, but have yet to succeed. However, Del. Vanessa Atterbeary, who introduced the bills, has said she’s not giving up and will try again this year, according to the Daily Record.