Women who bear children as a result of rape in Pennsylvania must choose between terminating the custodial rights of the rapist and receiving financial assistance from him, State Rep. Mike Schlossberg , D-Lehigh, said.
Schlossberg said he is trying to correct this in Pennsylvania law by introducing a bill that would allow a woman to end the father’s custodial and visitation rights while still receiving child support from him. Schlossberg said that many members of the House were shocked to hear that the current law exists as written.
“It’s a strange loophole. I cannot imagine this was intentional,” Schlossberg said.
Rep. Scott Conklin , D-Centre, is one of several state representatives who are co-sponsoring the bill, formally called House Bill 836, Tor Michaels , chief of staff for Conklin said.
“Clearly, there was a loophole in the law that we felt needed to be closed,” Michaels said.
Even if the woman decides to terminate parental rights, the perpetrator should not be let off the hook financially, Michaels said.
Although Schlossberg admits that “no rational human being” would want to keep the law as it is, he is doubtful that the bill will be passed while Republicans hold the majority in the House. But he said he would continue to advocate for the change, possibly by making this bill an amendment to another bill.
But Rep. Fred Keller, R-Snyder and Union, said he does not think the bill will be held back just because a Democrat proposed it.
“We have run democratic bills in the past, and have already run some this session,” Keller said.
Keller said he would not have a problem supporting the bill because he agrees with the idea that if a woman decides to go through with the pregnancy, the father should be held responsible for the child.
Mary Faulkner, director of counseling and advocacy services for the Centre County Women’s Resource Center , said that the proposed bill would help survivors of rape attain some measure of justice and regain a sense of safety.
“Any piece of legislation that provides a survivor with more control of her future in the aftermath of an assault may assist in the healing process,” Faulkner said. “If this legislation ends the false choice of shared custody or financial support, then it allows her more opportunity to focus on her future with her child.”
But Faulkner also said that there could be negative consequences for a woman who has to designate her child as a product of rape. Many of those who are raped decide that it is not in their best interest to report the rape, because few reported incidents actually end in conviction, she said.
“In practice, I do not know if most survivors will be able to benefit from this change if they need to prove that they were raped,” Faulkner said.
The burden of trying to prove rape would be especially difficult for women who have been raped by husbands or boyfriends, Faulkner said.