A national advocate for women who bear children after being raped urged New Hampshire lawmakers yesterday to strengthen the mothers’ ability to end their attackers’ parental rights.
Lawmakers in neighboring Vermont also will consider similar legislation this week.
Shauna Prewitt, a 32-year-old Chicago attorney, told New Hampshire’s Senate Judiciary Committee she knows the anguish facing the mothers because she became pregnant after being raped 10 years ago.
“I spent a lot of time on the bathroom floor crying. I felt dead,” she said.
But Prewitt said her body was nurturing a new life, which gave her a reason to live. She had a baby girl and thought the worst was behind her.
“I was wrong,” she said.
During proceedings against her attacker, he filed for full custody of her daughter in a state that didn’t have a law to stop it. She couldn’t imagine co-parenting her daughter with the man, so she said she made a deal with him not to testify if he terminated his parental rights.
“My daughter was safe, but I was denied justice,” she said.
New Hampshire’s bill would expand state law to require courts to grant petitions terminating the rights upon conviction, upon a guilty plea or if a fact-finding hearing determines the child was conceived as a result of sexual assault. Current law is discretionary and does not include the option of a fact-finding hearing.
Prewitt said New Hampshire is one of 15 states that allow, but don’t require, termination upon conviction of sexual assault. Another nine allow termination without conviction, she said.
She cites estimates from medical journals that 25,000 to 32,000 women in the U.S. become pregnant as a result of rape each year and said that 8,000 to 11,000 of them go on to raise the child conceived by rape. She said it is impossible to determine how many of them face the choice she did.