Maryland was poised to end a policy this week that would have stopped requiring that rape victims who get pregnant share parental rights with their attackers.
Instead, the legislation fizzled when a six-person negotiating committee ― comprised entirely of men ― essentially failed to iron out the final details before the state’s General Assembly adjourned for the session on Monday.
That means that in Maryland, a woman who conceives after a rape will still be legally required to negotiate with her rapist over custody should she decide to keep the baby, or include her rapist in any decisions regarding putting the baby up for adoption.
Maryland is one of seven states where that remains the case, along with North Dakota, Wyoming, New Mexico, Mississippi, Alabama and Minnesota, according to CNN. In many other states, an assault conviction is required to block an attacker’s parental rights.
This is the ninth time such legislation has been proposed ― and failed to become law ― in Maryland, The Washington Post reports. That is true despite broad support from groups typically at odds with each other, including Planned Parenthood and Maryland Right To Life.
Different versions of the bill passed both the Maryland House and the Maryland Senate this year, so a smaller negotiating committee came together to hammer out the final details, hoping to get a final vote in the House and Senate before the current legislative session closed.
Notably, that negotiating group did not include Maryland Delegate Kathleen Dumais (D-Montgomery) who has introduced the bill into the state legislature year after year. In fact, it did not include any female politicians at all ― an oversight that national media outlets including The Daily Beast have been highly critical of.
“Some of the legislators on the committee unquestionably care about rape survivors and co-sponsored the bills,” Lisae C. Jordan, executive director and counsel for the Maryland Coalition Against Sexual Assault, which lobbied on behalf of the bill, said in a statement. “At the same time, the committee would have benefited from including women legislators.”
One of the negotiators told The Baltimore Sun that they could not pass the bill on time because the print shop in the State House could not work fast enough to get copies for a final vote in both chambers by the time the legislative session ended on Monday.
Whatever the reason for the failure, activists who work for sexual assault victims and reproductive rights are furious over the outcome.
“It is embarrassing that Maryland remains one of seven states without this legal relief afforded to rape survivors,” Diana Philip, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Maryland, the advocacy group, said in an e-mail to The Huffington Post.
“Year after year, the bill is introduced with both crime victim rights and civil liberties issues addressed. The strategy has been to allow members of the House Judiciary and Senate Judicial Proceeding Committees to make any necessary clarifications that would be in the best interests of all Marylanders,” she said. “But after a decade, the protections in the bill get watered down and concessions are made without any final result.”
According to The Baltimore Sun, Maryland legislators have vowed to revive the bill in 2018.
But for Philip, that is not enough.
“Maryland rape survivors do not need more time to fine tune this bill,” she told HuffPost. “They need it passed into law.”
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