By Emily Wax-Thibodeaux
When a young woman came to the Family Services of North Alabama office last year for help with trauma, saying she had been raped by her step-uncle when she was 15, rape crisis advocate Portia Shepherd heard something that “killed me, shocked me.”
The step-uncle, who was getting out of jail after a drug conviction, wanted to be a part of their child’s life. And in Alabama, the alleged rapist could get custody.
“It’s the craziest thing I ever heard in my life,” Shepherd said. “On the state level, people were shocked. How could Alabama even be missing this law?”
Alabama is one of two states with no statute terminating parental rights for a person found to have conceived the child by rape or incest, a fact that has gained fresh relevance since its lawmakers adopted the nation’s strictest abortion ban in May. That statute even outlaws the procedure for victims of sexual assault and jails doctors who perform it, except in cases of serious risk to the woman’s health.
While the Alabama abortion law has been challenged in court, abortion rights activists fear it could reduce access to the procedure, forcing rape victims to bear children and co-parent with their attackers.
Last month, Alabama lawmakers considered a bill that addressed ending parental rights in cases of rape that result in conception, but the legislature removed that language, limiting the law to cases in which people sexually assault their children. State Sen. Vivian Figures (D) and other lawmakers believed the language that was removed could have excluded boys who were assaulted, because they cannot get pregnant. Figures said she didn’t know Alabama lacked a statute preventing rapists from gaining custody of their offspring but told The Washington Post that she now plans to introduce a bill in the next legislative session.