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Lawmakers introduce new federal female genital mutilation legislation

Jessa Reid Bolling

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After the federal law that made female genital mutilation a felony was found unconstitutional by a federal judge in Michigan, the National EndFGMToday initiative has called on states to enact their own laws to protect women and girls from the practice.

So far, 35 states now have FGM criminalization laws in place. 15 states, including Alabama, still have not passed any legislation criminalizing the practice. Now, lawmakers have introduced new federal legislation that aims to outlaw the practice at the national level. 

The Alabama House of Representatives adjourned early this year without taking action on HB421, a bill that would have made performing FGM on a female younger than 19 a Class B felony and charged parents or guardians who knowingly allow, authorize or direct another to perform FGM with a Class B felony. 

Tennessee Sen. Marsha Blackburn and Rep. Scott Perry of Pennsylvania have introduced bills to criminalize FGM nationwide. HR3583, the Federal Prohibition of Female Genital Mutilation Act of 2019, and S. 2017 were both introduced this summer with the goal of addressing issues in the previous federal law that led to the Michigan judge’s decision.

The previous national anti-FGM law, the Female Genital Mutilation Act of 1996, that was deemed unconstitutional last year criminalized FGM for any girl younger that 18 years old. The law did allow two exceptions: if medically necessary for an individual’s health or for medical purposes connected to labor or birth. 

According to Elizabeth Yore, child welfare advocate and head of EndFGMToday, the new proposed legislation would again ban FGM on girls younger than 18 and specifies on laws governing interstate commerce, which Congress has jurisdiction over. 

“FGM is often seen in the United States as a problem that doesn’t happen here,” Yore said in a statement. “But this practice occurs all over the world and is happening right here on American soil as well.”

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The effects of FGM can go beyond physical complications. According to the World Health Organization, proper anesthesia is rarely used when FGM is performed, meaning the experience can leave a victim with significant psychological effects, such as post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety disorders and depression. 

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Yore noted that women and girls who have experienced FGM are often left to deal with anxiety, depression, frequent nightmares, flashbacks and post-traumatic stress on their own due to a lack of awareness on how to help FGM victims. 

“All these complications are worsened by the fact that communities are unaware of what FGM is and are not educated on how to help someone who has endured FGM,” Yore said in the statement. “Survivors need advocates, such as U.S. legislators, to speak out against this barbarism. Therefore, the urgency of passing federal FGM legislation cannot be overstated.”

The federal or Empower Our Girls Act, introduced by Perry, adds FGM to seven Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) grant programs, allowing certain grants to be used for the purpose of assisting victims of FGM. 

The World Health Organization estimates that more than 200 million women and girls worldwide have been subjected to FGM. The Center for Disease Control reported in 2012 that an estimated over 500,000 women and girls in the United States are at risk of being victims of the procedure.

 

Jessa Reid Bolling is a reporting intern at the Alabama Political Reporter and graduate of The University of Alabama with a B.A. in journalism and political science. You can email her at [email protected] or reach her via Twitter.

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