States consider legislation to settle parental rights in rape-related pregnancies

By Katie Gibbs –

Ariel Castro, a convicted rapist and kidnapper, asked permission to visit his child that he fathered through rape during his sentencing hearing on Aug. 1. The court denied his request, but it caught the attention of Congress.

Castro lived in Cleveland, Ohio, where he kidnapped and held Michelle Knight, Amanda Berry and Georgina DeJesus for 11 years, 10 years, and nine years, respectively. Castro fathered a child with Berry when she was still being held captive. Castro committed suicide on Sept. 3.

Every year, there are thousands of rape-related pregnancies. Sometimes, survivors decide to raise the child that was conceived through rape. Cases such as Castro’s have caused some states to institute laws to prevent rapists from having parental rights, custody or visitation.

In the interest of this issue, U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., introduced the Rape Survivor Child Custody Act, or HR 2772. Since its introduction, other representatives have co-sponsored the act. Since July 22, the act has been referred to a congressional committee.

HR 2772 would reward grants to states that have laws terminating a rapist’s parental rights. States can apply for the grant if they meet the requirements.

The bill stipulates that in order to be available for the grant, the states must allow for the termination of parental rights by a legal showing of clear and convincing evidence of rape.

If the act passes, individual states will decide whether they believe their laws make them eligible for the grant.

The state would apply for the grant through the U.S. Department of Justice and then the attorney general would award the state the grant.

Family law, such as terminating parental rights, is done in state courts so the federal government cannot regulate the issue. Any changes the federal government wants to implement have to be done indirectly through items such as this bill.

The Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network, or RAINN, has released information for each state regarding the termination of rapists’ parental rights where the information is broken down by states. Thirty-one states allow for the termination of rapists’ parental rights over any child born from that rape while the degree of termination varies by states from in whole, part or not at all. In most states that allow for the termination of rights, the proof needed is conviction or clear and convincing evidence.

States that allow termination are: Texas, Ore., Washington, Calif., Alaska, Idaho, Nev., Mo., Colo., S.D., Neb., Kan., Okla., Iowa, Miss., Ark., La., Wis., Ill., Tenn., Ind., Mich., Fla., Maine, N.H., N.J., Pa., N.C., S.C., Del., and Conn. There are three states that require the rapist to pay child support even after his parental rights have been terminated. These states are Ore., Colo., and Ill. West Virginia has stipulations, but is also a state that can require child support paid.

You can contact your U.S. representative and urge him to co-sponsor HR 2772.

Katherine Gibbs is a senior Broadcast Journalism student from Belton, Texas. She currently serves as a producer for Texan TV News and a staff writer for Texan News Service.

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