INDIANAPOLIS | A Hoosier woman giving birth following a rape could face a lifetime of further attacks in court if the rapist-father tries to assert parental rights because of the way Indiana law is structured.
Indiana is among 31 states lacking specific laws barring rapists from claiming child custody and visitation options available to fathers.
State Sen. Ed Charbonneau, R-Valparaiso, believes it may be time to change that.
He's considering sponsoring legislation next year that, similar to his unsuccessful 2012 proposal, would allow a woman to ask a judge to terminate parental rights of a rapist, even if the man isn't criminally convicted of rape.
Charbonneau said most rapes are not reported to police, and if a victim gives birth to the child, she shouldn't have to spend the next 21 years "looking over her shoulder wondering if the rapist is going to claim his rights."
Under his 2012 plan, such a victim would have to show a judge by clear and convincing evidence that the child was conceived by rape for the judge to terminate the parental rights of the rapist.
That's a lower standard than "beyond a reasonable doubt" required for a criminal conviction, but Charbonneau believes it would speed the termination process and save women from potential ongoing legal harassment by the men who raped them.
"For the few folks that this might apply to, it could have a major impact on the quality of their lives," he said.
His 2012 proposal was approved 50-0 by the Senate but was changed in the House to require a criminal rape conviction prior to the termination of a rapist's parental rights.
A House-Senate conference committee failed to resolve the differences between the two proposals, and the measure was sent to a legislative study committee.
That panel reviewed the topic last August but was unable to devise a workable compromise.
Charbonneau said he believes lawmakers may be ready to reconsider the issue after Ariel Castro, the Cleveland man who fathered a child with one of the three kidnapped women he kept locked in his basement for more than a decade, sought to establish visitation with his daughter. His request was denied by an Ohio judge.
Castro killed himself in prison last week.
The issue of rape and women's rights boiled over in Indiana in the last U.S. Senate election cycle when Senate candidate and Indiana Treasurer Richard Mourdock claimed births resulting from rape were something that God intended to happen. The statement sparked national controversy, and Mourdock lost the senatorial election.
Nationwide, approximately 36,000 pregnancies a year are due to rape, according to an American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology study. Indiana has about 2 percent of the nation's population, so approximately 720 pregnancies from rape occur each year in the Hoosier State.