Rape Survivor Family Protection Act:
On February 13th 2018, Governor Larry Hogan of Maryland signed into law the Rape Survivor Family Protection Act. Originally introduced by Delegate Kathleen Dumais in 2007, this act allows women who become pregnant as the result of rape to request the termination of her rapist’s parental rights over the child. These laws are essential for the safety of a rape survivor and help ensure that she will not have to interact with her attacker. According to the National Conference of State Legislature, between 17,000 and 32,000 sexual assault resultant pregnancies occur each year, making the necessity for these laws overwhelmingly and unsettlingly clear.
As of last year (2017), 30 states and the District of Columbia had laws that allowed for the limitation of parental rights of rapists, and about 20 allow for the complete termination of rights. There is some state by state variance in the level of evidence required to do so; for instance, the new Maryland law requires a survivor to appear before a judge and provide “clear and convincing” evidence that sexual assault occurred. While this bill and others like it may be imperfect, their increase over the last two years shows a shift on the state level to push through protections for survivors of sexual assault.
Delegate Dumais has stated that she believes part of the difficulty in getting this bill through has been the lack of female lawmakers. She publicly stated, “There were certainly times, particularly in my first few years, that it always seemed like it was the men versus the women on some of these issues, but as I’ve been on this committee and become more involved in the issues, really what my committee battles with all the time is a balance between victims’ rights and due process.” Supporters of this bill have cited increasing female empowerment as a factor in this year’s success. Although Dumais believes the bill was set to pass this year she agrees saying, “I think the #MeToo movement certainly helped.”
Laura and Reid’s Law:
This month Laura and Reid’s Law was introduced to Maryland’s state legislature. The law was named for a Maryland teacher, Laura Wallen, and the child she hoped to deliver before she was allegedly shot in the back of the head by her on-again, off-again boyfriend. The effort has been spearheaded by Wallen’s parents, Mike and Gwen, who hope to preserve the legacy of their daughter and protect other women who may be in increased danger during pregnancy. Her mother, Gwen Wallen, as quoted in The Baltimore Sun, says, “There’s so much we can’t control and can’t do. This feels like we’re doing good.”
Pregnancy is one of the most dangerous times for women who experience intimate partner violence, and those who support the bill hope that it will serve as an additional deterrent and protection for women already at risk. According to the CDC, homicide is one of the leading causes of death for women under the age of 44 and half of those deaths occured at the hands of an intimate partner. The CDC numbers also show that 15% of women who are murdered by intimate partners were pregnant or had recently given birth; half of that percentage are slain within the first trimester. Subsequently, Laura and Reid’s Law would seek to replace the current wording of “a viable fetus” with “unborn child,” and the bill will expand the definition of fetal homicide in the state of Maryland to fetuses before traditional viability (22-24 weeks).
While some sponsors are concerned that this rephrasing will become caught up in the current debate over abortion, the bill as drafted specifically exempts pregnancies terminated through abortion, a caveat that Gwen Wallen made sure to include to increase the bill’s chances of passing and to try to separate the protection of at-risk women from the abortion discussion. You can read the full draft of the law as it was introduced here: http://bit.ly/2GfIkKt.