Rapists Should Not Have Parental Custody Rights

Both the mother and the child are endangered and insulted by such misguided policies.

Anti-abortion Alicia Arbisi, front right, and her group, stand face-to-face against abortion rights demonstrators as abortion opponents march in front of the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, Friday, Jan. 25, 2013, in a demonstration that coincides with the landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision that created a constitutional, nationwide right to abortion.

The anti-abortion rally in Washington last week didn't attract too much attention, beyond the perfunctory newspaper stories. It's not because the issue isn't deeply important to many people, be they anti-abortion or in favor of abortion rights. It's because there's not much else to say when you've got a faceoff between people who believe the procedure is morally wrong and those who believe with equal sincerity and determination that a woman should have the right to control what happens to her own body.

What is unfathomable, however, is the abrogation of the rights of both a mother and a child of rape. In more than 30 states, rapists have the right to sue for parental rights regarding the children produced from their attacks.

[See a collection of political cartoons on the Catholic contraception controversy.]

The moral question here is clear, and not muddied by an argument over who is more important—a pregnant woman or the fetus. Both the mother and the child are endangered and insulted by such misguided policies. Not only would the rape victim be forced to have contact with her attacker for at least two decades to come—entrenching the sense of control rapists seek in the initial attack—but the child would be put in danger by being forced to have contact with a violent criminal.

As rape victim and lawyer Shauna Prewitt writes so powerfully, the insulting policies end up making it harder to throw rapists behind bars. Women who choose to carry their pregnancies from rape to term—and some 30 percent do so, according to Prewitt, who made that choice herself—may feel bullied into bargaining away her rights in court against her attacker in exchange for him not seeking visitation rights.

Americans may never come to terms with the rightness or wrongness of abortion. But changing these laws is a no-brainer.

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