This is what happens when a group of men write laws for women, because they cannot put themselves in the place of a pregnant woman, they simply cannot think of all the ways that law might do damage.

The recent furor over Rep. Todd Akins’ comments about “legitimate rape” has raised some other more obscure situations that a man would never imagine in a thousand years. For example, when the victim of rape decides to follow through on the pregnancy, in many states it is legally possible for the rapist to assert their parental rights and try to try to obtain custody through the courts.

As anyone who works with rape knows, stranger rape is the exception, not the norm. More often a woman is raped by someone she knows. Until the last few decades many states did not recognize that a spouse can rape. In abusive relationships the line can be hard to define legally, and if a woman does not choose to file rape charges, it is possible that the rapist can extend the nightmare by seeking custody.

In 2004, Shauna Prewitt was in her senior year of college. Prewitt says that she was raped in her home that year and chose to give birth. In the midst of the case against her rapist, he filed for custody of the child.

“I was struck with terror, not only with the idea of letting my child be around him, but also having to spend the next 18 years of my life tied to him,” she says.

“At least Missouri has a law on the books allowing the court to step in and terminate parental rights in a case like Prewitt’s—at least 27 states have no statutes to protect the mothers of rape-conceived children. Meanwhile, victims continue to come forward with horror stories of rapists using the threat of custody actions to blackmail and intimidate their victims into not pressing criminal charges.”
Having worked as a volunteer at rape centers for decades, I grow furious with men who want to limit women’s options when pregnant, or who act like men are the real victims in all custody battles.  Pregnancy falls upon the woman in a way it does not fall upon the man. Biology isn’t fair which is why our laws must be. If a woman is legally defined as a “person,” then her body belongs to her. She has not only the right to make her own decisions, she has the reponsibility.