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“Legitimate Rape” and Child Custody Laws

Missouri Congressman Todd Akin lit a political firestorm with his statement that “legitimate rape” rarely results in pregnancy. “If it’s legitimate rape,” Akin said, “the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.”

What is “legitimate rape?”

And how can a woman’s body distinguish the sperm of a rapist from a consensual partner?

But some good may result from the controversy, as Akin’s comment has shifted the political focus to women’s rights.

Today 31 states allow men who father through rape to assert child custody and visitation rights.

I mean can you imagine getting raped, becoming pregnant, having the child, and then having your rapist seek custody rights over the baby and becoming legally bound to you for the next 18 years?

It’s unthinkable.

But that’s precisely what happened to Shauna Prewitt, a rape survivor, attorney, and activist who investigated the custody rights of men who father through rape.

Moreover, Prewitt’s rapist threatened to assert custody of their child unless she stopped pursuing criminal charges against him. Most states sanction this cruel form of blackmail.

Nineteen states, including Pennsylvania, passed laws allowing courts to terminate parental rights of men who father children through rape. Pennsylvania law states: “The rights of a parent in regard to a child may be terminated” if “the parent is the father of a child conceived as a result of a rape or incest.”

Hopefully, Akin’s “legitimate rape” comment will inspire more states to follow Pennsylvania’s lead and pass legislation restricting the ability of men who father children through rape to assert custody rights.