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This week, Montana lawmakers are considering a bill to amend the state’s child custody laws. A provision in the not-so-fine-print: “Alleged sexual intercourse without consent resulting in the birth of a child is not independently grounds for terminating the parent-child legal relationship.” To put it in laymen’s terms, mothers could be forced to co-parent with their rapists. 

The bill is expected to be heard by Montana’s House Judiciary Committee on Friday. But even if it doesn’t go anywhere, Montana’s current laws require an offender to have been convicted of sexual assault before parental rights can be terminated. As Mother Jones reported back in 2019: 

As many as 32,000 women get pregnant through rape every year, and at least one-third decide to raise the baby instead of getting an abortion or choosing adoption. But because more than a third of all states do not terminate an assailant’s custody rights unless he’s been convicted of felony sexual assault, the women who make that choice can be forced to co-parent with their rapist. Even in states that make it easier to deny rapists’ parental rights, loopholes abound, and prosecutors and judges have broad discretion in these cases.

Until 2015, the majority of states allowed rapists to maintain custody of their children, legally binding them to the child’s mother, their victim. That year, the Obama administration encouraged states to pass laws terminating parental rights if there was “clear and convincing evidence” of rape, no conviction required. Only about half of the country has implemented such standards. (Montana is not one of them.)

“Personally having to have contact with this person after what happened was terrifying, but now having to share my daughter with no supervision is worse,” one survivor wrote in a statement to Nebraska’s state Judiciary Committee in 2017. “I was told that it is in the best interest of my child to have a father in her life. And what makes this rapist safe to be a father?”

You can read the original Mother Jones story, about yet another way states are attempting to ban abortions and control women’s bodies, lives, and futures, here.

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This is no time to come up short. It's time to fight like hell, as our namesake would tell us to do, for a democracy where minority rule cannot impose an extreme agenda, where facts matter, and where accountability has a chance at the polls and in the press. If you value our reporting and you can right now, please help us dig out of the $100,000 hole we're starting our new budgeting cycle in with an always-needed and always-appreciated donation today.

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