A week after dying in the General Assembly, a bill to enable courts to strip parental rights from a mother or father who conceived the child through non-consensual intercourse is getting more attention on Facebook than it has received during the nearly 10 years it has lingered in the legislature.
A public Facebook post by Del. David Moon, D-Montgomery and a sponsor of the measure, received 100 emoji reactions in its first 15 hours and about as many comments, most of which assailed the General Assembly for not passing the bill.
Much of the venom is directed at the six-member Senate-House conference committee that was still hammering out differences in the chambers’ measures as time ran out on the 2017 session and, as noted in the WJZ-TV news article Moon added to his post, was an all-male panel. (Another story highlighting the lack of women on the panel, published Sunday night on The Daily Beast, went viral.)
Moon, a conference-committee member, wrote on Facebook that the “conference committee was formed with less than two hours to hash out a compromise before the midnight close of the legislative session. We had a miniscule amount of time to come to an agreement, get amendments drafted, and to issue a final conference report to be approved in both chambers. The very late appointment of the conference committee was out of my control and also for reasons unknown to me.”
Supporters of the proposed Rape Survivor Family Protection Act have called it necessary to protect victims of the sexual assault from having to raise the child with the man – in most cases – or woman who attacked them. Opponents have voiced concern about the due-process rights of the defendant essentially being accused of rape in the civil trial though never having been charged with or even accused of the crime.
Del. Kathleen M. Dumais, the bill’s chief House sponsor, said Tuesday that she hopes the post-session support will carry over to when the legislators return in January.
“There is a groundswell and that does bode well for next year,” said Dumais, D-Montgomery.
A sampling of the supporters’ comments on Moon’s post includes the following:
But former Del. Jill P. Carter, who served in the legislature when the bill was debated in prior years, commented that she continues to oppose the measure.
“I have a problem with labeling anyone a ‘rapist’ that has not been convicted of rape,” stated Carter, D-Baltimore City.
“I am very aware that an overwhelming number of rapes go unreported and that culprits are never even accused, much less prosecuted or convicted,” she added. “But, the scenario this bill covers is not a common one — a woman choosing to have the child of a rapist (that she has never before accused) and then seeking to terminate parental rights long after the alleged (never complained of, charged, or prosecuted rape) based on a non-criminal standard. I actually feel that this is potentially as sinister as an alleged rapist having access to his child. Termination of parental rights should be based solely on evidence that a parent poses quantifiable or irreparable danger to the child by remaining his parent.”
Other members of the Senate-House conference committee were Sens. Robert A. “Bobby” Zirkin, D-Baltimore County and chair of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee; Michael J. Hough, R-Frederick and Carroll; and William C. Smith Jr., D-Montgomery; and Dels. Joseph F. Vallario Jr., D-Prince George’s and chair of the House Judiciary Committee; and Brett R. Wilson, R-Washington.
Dumais said the bill died this year not because no women were on the conference committee but because the Senate and House conferees could not reach an agreement in time.
However, “the optics were bad,” Dumais added. “It would have been more appropriate to have at least one woman from each house. I think that would have been appropriate.”
As the clock approached midnight on April 10, the session’s final day, the Senate and House conferees were divided on the statute of limitations for a parent to seek termination of the other’s parental rights on grounds that the child was conceived via sexual assault. The Senate conferees sought three years, while the House members wanted seven, Dumais said.
The conferees were also split on whether testimony given at the termination of parental rights hearing could be used against the alleged attacker in a subsequent sexual-assault criminal trial. The Senate conferees sought to prohibit the testimony from being used at all while the House members wanted the hearing testimony to be available to impeach the defendant if it contradicted his or her testimony at the criminal trial, Dumais added.
Moon concluded his post by saying he hoped the conference committee would emerge “with an imperfect vehicle” that would benefit as many people as possible.
“I’m sorry to let everyone down, but believe me, I’m as bummed out and frustrated as the rest of you,” he wrote. “As a result of our failure, rapists will continue to have leverage over rape survivors in Maryland.”