BOSTON –- House Minority Leader Bradley H. Jones, Jr. (R-North Reading) continued his efforts this week to end female genital mutilation (FGM) in Massachusetts, calling on the Joint Committee on the Judiciary to issue a favorable report on legislation he is sponsoring to ban this practice.
House Bill 1466, An Act to prohibit female genital mutilation, was one of three anti-FGM bills to receive a public hearing at the State House on September 24. Filed by Representative Jones following a recent US district court decision that struck down a 1996 federal ban as unconstitutional, the bill would ban female genital mutilation, provide support for victims, and impose penalties against those who perform the procedure.
Jones is also co-sponsoring House Bill 3332, An Act relative to the penalties for the crime of female genital mutilation, which was filed by Representative Natalie Higgins (D-Leominster), and supporting Senate Bill 834, An Act relative to female genital mutilation, filed by Senator Joseph Boncore (D-Winthrop).
Female genital mutilation involves the alteration or intentional injury to a girl’s healthy genital organs for non-medical reasons. The procedure is typically carried out on children between birth and age fifteen and can cause lifelong psychological and emotional trauma while leading to difficulties in childbirth and other negative health complications. The World Health Organization has stated that the procedure has no medical benefits.
Although Congress banned the practice in 1996, a US district court judge ruled on November 20, 2018, that it did not have the authority to do so under the Commerce Clause of the US Constitution. The judge declared the practice must be regulated as criminal activity by individual states and not the federal government.
“Female genital mutilation is a dangerous and unnecessary procedure that can cause a lifetime of physical and emotional harm for young girls,” said Representative Jones. “With the courts rendering the 1996 federal ban invalid, it is imperative for the state to take action now to end this shameful and inhumane practice.”
Under Jones’ bill, the Commissioner of Public Health will develop a community education, prevention and outreach program on the dangers of FGM, while the Department of Children and Families (DCF) will work with the Department of Mental Health and other state agencies to provide services for FGM victims and those who are at risk. DCF will also contract with non-government organizations with FGM experience to help train law enforcement officials to identify and refer at-risk individuals and victims to the appropriate state services available to them.
Jones’ bill imposes a penalty of up to 15 years in a state prison or up to 2 ½ years in a house of correction for anyone who performs an FGM procedure, any parent or guardian who consents to their child undergoing the procedure, and anyone who transports a child across state lines to have the procedure performed. The bill also allows victims to bring a civil action within 10 years of their eighteenth birthday, and would permanently revoke the license of any health care professional who performs an FGM procedure.
A study conducted by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention found that in 2012, more than half a million women and girls in the United States either had the procedure performed on them or were at risk, with Massachusetts having the 12th largest at-risk population in the country.
A total of 35 states, including New Hampshire and Rhode Island, have already passed laws banning FGM.