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‘Fake news’: State Rep. Dismukes slams WaPo, Alabama Media Group for claiming rapists have parental rights in Alabama

State Rep. Will Dismukes (R-Prattville) on Monday issued a statement calling out The Washington Post and Alabama Media Group for recent “deeply misleading,” “fake news” stories on Alabama’s parental rights law.

During the Alabama legislature’s 2019 regular session, Dismukes sponsored HB 48, which received final passage on May 28 and since became law after being signed by Governor Kay Ivey. Also known as “Jessi’s Law,” HB 48 is now Act 2019-512 in the Code of Alabama and updated the Yellowhammer State’s law governing parental rights.

The bill summary synopsis, states in part that the new law will “provide that a conviction of a parent for rape or incest is a ground for termination of parental rights if the rape or incest resulted in the conception of the child.”

Despite this fact, The Washington Post on June 9 published a national “news” story headlined, “In Alabama — where lawmakers banned abortion for rape victims — rapists’ parental rights are protected.”

The story claimed, “Alabama is one of two states with no statute terminating parental rights for a person found to have conceived the child by rape or incest, a fact that has gained fresh relevance since its lawmakers adopted the nation’s strictest abortion ban in May.”

While also being untrue, that part of the article also seemingly ignored that Alabama’s abortion ban is not in effect — and is not expected to ever go into effect.

“While the Alabama abortion law has been challenged in court, abortion rights activists fear it could reduce access to the procedure, forcing rape victims to bear children and co-parent with their attackers,” the article nevertheless continued.

The story made similar assertions throughout, including, “In addition to Alabama, only Minnesota has no law terminating parental rights in rape cases.”

The next day, on June 10, Alabama Media Group subsidiaries, including AL(dot)com, republished this exact piece by The Washington Post.

Due to this reporting, outlets across the nation have now begun repeating the claims about Alabama’s parental rights law.

This led to the statement by Dismukes, who was forceful in criticizing “lazy reporting that got the facts wrong.”

“Alabama’s law is crystal clear — rapists do not have parental rights,” he said. “Jessi’s Law very clearly provides that the parental rights of a person convicted of rape or incest in the first degree will be terminated. Plain and simple.”

Dismukes also made reference to Alabama’s existing law before passage of HB 48 including language that made rape and incest “aggravating circumstances” judges consider during parental rights decisions.

“Even prior to this bill’s passage, the law in Alabama gave judges the authority to deny parental rights for those who commit such heinous acts, to ensure that children are being raised in the healthiest and safest possible households,” he explained.

“It is shameful that the Washington Post would publish such a gross mischaracterization of Alabamians while sowing fear in the minds of mothers, fathers, and children for the sole purpose of generating clicks online,” Dismukes decried.

He then called on The Washington Post “and media outlets like AL.com that printed its misleading, sensationalistic story” to “issue a retraction.”

Dismukes concluded, “That headline and the story that followed were deeply misleading, and the definition of fake news. This was lazy reporting that got the facts wrong, all in a rush to paint Alabama in a negative light.”

Sean Ross is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn