Last week's controversy surrounding Rep. Todd Akin (R-Mo.) and his comments on "legitimate rape" caused a firestorm in the U.S. political scene, but one lawyer chose to light a related issue often ignored – the legal struggles of raped women who decide to keep their babies.
Akin suggested last Sunday that women's bodies could prevent pregnancies in cases of "legitimate rape," a statement for which he later apologized, but not before a large section of the GOP, including presidential candidate Mitt Romney, asked him to step down from his campaign for the Missouri Senate race.
The remark stemmed from a debate on abortion, which Akin and many Republicans want to make illegal in most cases, including those of rape. In response to Akin's statement, a woman who was raped and decided to give birth to her baby, and now works as a lawyer, revealed that rapists in 31 states retain the same custody and visitation rights over the children they conceive through rape as do regular fathers.
"Eight years after my rape, I find myself on trial against ignorance again. Rep. Todd Akin's recent comments that 'legitimate rape' rarely results in pregnancy not only flout scientific fact but, for me, cut deeper. Akin has de-legitimized my rape," said Shauna R. Prewitt a lawyer in Chicago in a piece for CNN.
"You see, nine months after my rape, I gave birth to a beautiful little girl. You could say she was conceived in rape; she was. But she is also so much more than her beginnings. I blissfully believed that after I finally had decided to give birth to and to raise my daughter, life would be all roses and endless days at the playground. I was wrong again," she added.
Prewitt revealed that what she discovered was that the majority of U.S. states, 31 in total, have no laws that prohibit a rapist from exercising custodial rights. A woman is forced to risk her own legal rights to have the rapist brought to trial in exchange for the man dropping his interests in interacting with the child.
Prewitt, who became a lawyer after her ordeal, and wrote a paper for Georgetown Law Journal in 2009 addressing the same issue, continued: "When faced with the choice between a lifetime tethered to her rapist or meaningful legal redress, the answer may be easy, but it is not painless. For the sake of her child, the woman will sacrifice her need to see her once immensely powerful perpetrator humbled by the court."
She further dismissed the belief that no rapist would dare ask for parental rights for a child he fathered, citing her own experience and detailing the legal battles she had to go through.
David Ward, Legal & Legislative Counsel of Legal Voice, a nonprofit organization that secures and protects women's legal rights in America, confirmed in a phone interview with The Christian Post that many states do indeed currently allow rapists to hold the same custody and visitation rights as any other father. Ward could not confirm the total number of states that grant rapists such rights.
Sara Ainsworth, a former staff attorney for Legal Voice, wrote in 2008 a paper titled "Parental Rights for Rapists?" which talked about the controversial topic in depth.
"But for the thousands of women in the United States who become pregnant and bear children as a result of rape each year, the need to ensure that they can raise their children without further threat from the rapist is a critical – and largely unacknowledged – concern," Ainsworth notes.
The paper explains that 32,000 women in the Unites States become pregnant as a result of rape each year, half of whom decide to end their pregnancies while the other half decide to keep their babies.
Highlighting the legal obstacles they face in most states, Ainsworth shares a number of stories of raped women who were forced under law to cooperate with their rapists over their children.
"Another survivor, a 14-year-old girl, decided to give up her baby for adoption. She was required by law to give notice of the adoption to the rapist, an adult man. While she was permitted by a court to give up her rights to the child, the rapist retained his and then sought child support payments from her," the lawyer writes. "Another survivor, who gave birth to twins after a date rape, raised them peacefully with her intimate partner until they were five years old, at which time the rapist learned of their existence and filed a lawsuit to establish his paternity and gain visitation rights, and attempted to use the mother's sexual orientation against her in the legal proceedings."
Ainsworth concludes by suggesting that this is one issue that both the pro-life and pro-choice movements can work together on, by advocating for more legal protection for mothers who decide to keep their babies conceived by rape.