Judge Throws Out Female Genital Mutilation Case, Says Federal Gov’t Doesn’t Have Authority To Ban Practice

US District Judge Bernard Friedman called the practice 'despicable,' but said it's not a federal matter.

a protest sign opposing female genital mutilation
Ms Jane Campbell / Shutterstock

US District Judge Bernard Friedman called the practice 'despicable,' but said it's not a federal matter.

A Michigan judge has thrown out a case against two Michigan doctors and six other individuals, including some mothers, who conspired to subject young women to female genital mutilation, the Detroit Free Press is reporting.

US District Judge Bernard Friedman, while admitting that the controversial practice is “despicable,” ruled that the 22-year-old federal law that prohibits the practice is not within the purview of Congress, saying instead that it’s a matter for the states to enforce.

“Congress overstepped its bounds by legislating to prohibit FGM… FGM is a ‘local criminal activity’ which, in keeping with longstanding tradition and our federal system of government, is for the states to regulate, not Congress.”

What Is Female Genital Mutilation?

Often referred to by its initials, FGM, or colloquially (and erroneously) referred to as “female circumcision,” is a process in which the external female genitalia (usually the clitoris) is removed for non-medical reasons, according to the World Health Organization.

The practice is widely decried by human rights organizations and health organizations, both of which say that the procedure violates the rights of women and girls, and serves no medical purpose. Many girls are subject to the procedure in infancy, and in many cases it’s performed on girls well into their teens, or even on adult women.

Additionally, the procedure, often performed under less-than-sterile conditions, can cause bleeding and other complications.

What Is The Reason For It, Then?

The reasons are largely cultural, according to the World Health Organization.

“FGM is often considered a necessary part of raising a girl, and a way to prepare her for adulthood and marriage. FGM is often motivated by beliefs about what is considered acceptable sexual behaviour. It aims to ensure premarital virginity and marital fidelity. FGM is in many communities believed to reduce a woman’s libido and therefore believed to help her resist extramarital sexual acts.”

The Michigan Case

In Michigan, an unidentified number of minor girls, through their attorneys, brought suit against two Michigan doctors and six other people, at least three of whom were mothers of the girls, for subjecting them to the practice. Specifically, girls from Michigan, Illinois, and Minnesota were brought to a Michigan medical clinic and subjected to the procedure.

Some of the girls screamed, cried, and bled during the procedure. One was given a drug cocktail of Valium ground into liquid Tylenol to keep her calm. Others said their mothers told them they were going into Detroit for a “girls weekend,” only to wind up instead at a doctor’s office to be genitally mutilated.

The Ruling

Unfortunately for the victims, Friedman said that the Clinton administration law, while written from a good place, “overstepped” the bounds of how Congress could address the practice. He said that FGM is instead a “local crime,” and that it’s up to the states to prohibit the practice, not the federal government.

In fact, as of this writing only 27 of the 50 states have state-level laws against FGM, Michigan being one of them. Michigan’s law is tougher than the federal one. It remains unclear, as of this writing, why Michigan prosecutors chose to adjudicate this particular case according to federal law rather than the state law.