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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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THE TRUTH...

is the first thing despots go after. An unwavering commitment to it is probably what draws you to Mother Jones' journalism. And as we're seeing in the US and the world around, authoritarians seek to poison the discourse and the way we relate to each other because they can't stand people coming together around a shared sense of the truth—it's a huge threat to them.

Which is also a pretty great way to describe Mother Jones' mission: People coming together around the truth to hold power accountable.

And right now, we need to raise about $400,000 from our online readers over the next two months to hit our annual goal and make good on that mission. Read more about the information war we find ourselves in and how people-powered, independent reporting can and must rise to the challenge—and please support our team's truth-telling journalism with a donation if you can right now.

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