January 2019 Church & State | People & Events

A federal court in November ruled that a federal law that bans female genital mutilation (FGM) is unconstitutional and dismissed most of the charges pending against several doctors in Michigan accused of taking part in the practice.

Dr. Jumana Nagarwala of North­ville was arrested along with several other people and charged with mutilating the genitalia of nine girls for religious purposes. The controversial practice is followed by some members of a small Islamic sect known as the Dawoodi Bohra.

U.S. District Judge Bernard Friedman did not rule that members of the religious group have the right to engage in genital mutilation on the grounds of religious freedom. Rather, he found that Congress lacks the ability to outlaw the practice, holding that it’s a state matter.

“There is nothing commercial or economic about FGM,” Friedman wrote. “[FGM] is not part of a larger mark­et and it has no demonstrated effect on interstate commerce. The Com­merce Clause does not permit Con­gress to regulate a crime of this nature.”

Prosecutors argued that the practice does involve interstate commerce because people use cell phones to coordinate and often transport children across state lines to subject them to FGM.

The Detroit News reported that Friedman dismissed four plaintiffs from the case, including three mothers who had brought their daughters to Nagarwala and other doctors for FGM.

The doctors still face lesser charges of conspiracy. Their trial will start in April.

Opponents of FGM criticized the ruling.

“It’s a giant step backward in the protection of women’s and girls’ rights,” said Shelby Quast, a director with Equality Now, an international organization that works to stop child marriage, sex trafficking and FGM. “Especially when there is a global movement to eliminate this practice.”

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that more than 200 million women worldwide have been subjected to FGM. WHO notes that the practice has no medical value. It has been condemned by mainstream Muslim groups and medical organizations alike.

Americans United has noted that the practice can’t be supported on religious-freedom grounds because it subjects children to harm and injury. (See “Ending A Cycle Of Abuse,” September 2017 Church & State.)

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