Should Rapists Have Child Visitation Rights?

I find the question shocking, because the answer to me is obviously no. But the laws of a majority of the states allow for a rapist to demand visitation rights just like any father. This travestry is especially worth looking at in an election year when the Republicans promise an end to Roe v. Wade and generally are hostile to women on the many health care issues relating to contraception and abortion.

A woman who is raped has three choices. She can place her baby for adoption. She can have an abortion. Or she can raise this child of rape as her own. If the mother gives up the pregnancy by abortion or the baby by adoption, she will never have to deal with the rapist again once she testifies in the trial that sends him to prison. But if the mother chooses, as many loving women do, to raise this child, she may be the one who has to defend herself in court when the rapist demands rights of visitation.

Basically, a rapist has the same rights to visitation as any father unless the state has enacted a law cutting off those rights. The majority of states have not enacted such a law as discussed in an excellent law review article in The Georgetown Law Journal. That every state should have such a law is apparent.

The legal travesty that in many states a victim of rape who chooses to mother can be sued and haunted by her rapist suggests the need for a look at the larger picture of women’s issues and needs in the context of the election campaigns. There is no such thing as “legitimate rape” and women’s bodies don’t simply take care of avoiding pregnancy when a rape occurs. While I have sympathy for women who imagine that a Republican president could create a better economy with more jobs (although this is wishful thinking since tax cuts for the rich will do nothing to help the middle class), I don’t think these women could possibly recall what it was like before Roe v. Wade if a woman needed an abortion.

Also, women’s issues are economic issues. Motherhood has enormous financial consequences. If contraception is restricted as much as possible (will it be covered by health plans, for example) and the overturning of Roe v. Wade makes abortion illegal, a woman’s risk of mothering against her will is greatly increased. To try and take this decision out of the hands of women makes as little sense as allowing a rapist to demand visitation rights with the child of the victimized woman.

This election could do great damage to women. I certainly hope that an informed electorate won’t allow that to happen.

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