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Backers of bill to end accused rapists’ parental rights vow to fight on

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‘As long as women become pregnant as a result of rape, we will continue to fight for access to the courts,’ Lisae C. Jordan of the Maryland Coalition Against Sexual Assault says of a perennial General Assembly bill that would make it easier for courts to strip parental rights in cases of children conceived through rape. ‘I am confident the General Assembly will do the right thing.’ (File photo)

ANNAPOLIS – Supporters of legislation designed to make it easier for courts to strip parental rights from a mother or father who conceived the child through non-consensual intercourse say they are not deterred by the bill’s perennial death in the General Assembly.

The proposed Rape Survivor Family Protection Act never made it to the Senate floor for a vote this session, the seventh year the bill has been introduced.

The Maryland Coalition Against Sexual Assault, which has lobbied strongly for the bill each year, vowed to try again in 2017.

“As long as women become pregnant as a result of rape, we will continue to fight for access to the courts,” Lisae C. Jordan, MCASA’s executive director and counsel, said Wednesday. “I am confident the General Assembly will do the right thing.”

Critics of the bill, including the Maryland State Bar Association, voiced procedural and substantive due-process concerns this year with the legislation.

Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee Chairman Robert A. “Bobby” Zirkin said that, as a matter of fundamental fairness to the defendant, allegations of rape should not be raised in civil proceedings when the accused has never been convicted, let alone charged criminally.

Zirkin added that convicted rapists should have their paternal rights terminated.

The legislation, which the House passed this year, sought to address the due process and fundamental fairness concerns by requiring that the lack of consent be shown by clear and convincing evidence in the termination of parental rights proceeding. But concerns about due process remained.

“The concept [of the bill] is very sound but the law and procedures have to be correct,” said Zirkin, D-Baltimore County. “I am committed to making not just the title but the details of the bill work.”

The legislation, had it been considered by the full Senate this year, would have been subjected to a brutal, time-consuming and ultimately meaningless floor fight on the session’s final day.

Amendments were being prepared by supporters to strike from the bill a provision that would have enabled courts to consider prior and similar bad acts by the person alleged to have committed the rape.

That prior-bad-acts provision, which the Senate committee added, would have doomed the bill because the House Judiciary Committee opposed the provision. And if his panel’s provision was removed by amendment on the Senate floor, Zirkin said he would have moved to have the bill sent back to his committee, effectively killing the legislation.

The controversial bill may lose its longtime Senate champion next year.

Sen. Jamin B. “Jamie” Raskin, D-Montgomery, is running for the U.S. House seat Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., is abandoning in his quest to succeed retiring U.S. Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, D-Md.

Raskin said he is surprised by the failure to win passage of legislation to make it easier for women to terminate the parental rights of their attackers, particularly after he shepherded through the General Assembly the seemingly more controversial issues of same-sex marriage and abolition of the death penalty.

“It’s incomprehensible,” he said.

If Raskin wins election to the U.S. House, Sen. Susan C. Lee, D-Montgomery, said she “would be honored” to serve as chief sponsor of the bill next session.

“It’s terrible that a woman would have to relive what happened to her” by sharing child custody with the man who attacked her, Lee said.