Today, Senator Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) introduced S. 2017, the Federal Prohibition of Female Genital Mutilation Act of 2019 to stop female genital mutilation (FGM) and ensure successful future prosecution of those who perpetuate this practice. This legislation is cosponsored by Senators Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-Miss.), Martha McSally (R-Ariz.), Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.V.), and Deb Fischer (R-Neb.). 

“Perpetrators of FGM must be held responsible for their grotesque actions – even after they cross state lines,” said Senator Blackburn. “No woman or girl should have to watch her abuser go unpunished. This legislation closes a crucial loophole and introduces six circumstances under which the practice is considered a federal crime. Thank you to the Department of Justice for highlighting the need for this important legislation.”

A recent court ruling, United States v. Nagarwala, allows FGM to go unpunished under federal law. In 2018, the Michigan judge in this case found unconstitutional under Commerce Clause grounds the 1996 federal statute banning FGM. This decision effectively dismissed charges against the doctor who mutilated the genitals of several girls in the Detroit area and her co-conspirators.

In April 2019, the Department of Justice (DOJ), rather than appeal the case, asked Congress in a letter to amend the law and add requisite Commerce Clause language in 18 USC § 116(a) to address the constitutional problem. Pursuant to the Commerce Clause, Congress can regulate and protect the channels of interstate commerce, the instrumentalities of interstate commerce, and activities that “substantially affect commerce.”  Current law banning FGM does not include the requisite Commerce Clause language. Amending the law will allow federal prosecutors to seek justice for victims by bringing charges against perpetrators of this practice and holding them criminally accountable. 

“It’s really simple: people who commit these horrendous crimes against young women must be held accountable. This commonsense legislation clarifies the existing federal prohibition on FGM to ensure that regardless of where these criminals live, they are held responsible. It also provides females who have been victimized by such actions with the assurance that their perpetrators will not go unpunished,” said Senator Joni Ernst.

“It’s bad enough this heinous act still takes place in other countries, but it’s completely unacceptable that woman and girls in the United States can also be victims,” said Senator Hyde-Smith.  “We need this legislation to clarify the law and pass constitutional muster that FGM must not go unpunished in this country.”

“Female genital mutilation is unacceptable no matter the country or the culture,” said Senator McSally.“This legislation would prohibit the practice in the United States and prosecute perpetrators to the fullest extent of federal law. I urge Congress to take up and pass this legislation swiftly to protect women and girls nationwide.”

“FGM is wrong and should be punishable by federal law. This bill is about protecting women and girls. I thank Senator Blackburn for her leadership and am proud to stand with my colleagues in opposition to this practice,” Senator Capito said. 

“This crucial legislation recognizes the true nature and mobility of the violent practice of FGM in the United States,” said Penny Nance, CEO and President of Concerned Women for America Legislative Action Committee. “We know this heinous violation against women and girls involves a network of interstate and foreign actors. To achieve the goal of eradicating FGM and fully protect girls at risk, congress must affirm the constitutional validity of prohibiting FGM as a matter of interstate or foreign commerce. We applaud Senator Blackburn for her leadership on this issue.”  

“200 million women and girls worldwide have undergone female genital mutilation, a barbaric and medically unnecessary procedure that permanently harms women physically and often emotionally,” said Carrie Lukas, Vice President of Independent Women’s Forum. “We cannot allow this practice to be important to the United States. This bill should be swiftly passed.”

“We are grateful to Sen. Blackburn for her leadership to combat female genital mutilation. This bill will help protect girls from this awful, and often overlooked, form of sexual assault," said Scott Berkowitz, president of the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, the nation’s largest anti-sexual violence organization.

Representatives Scott Perry (R-Penn.) and Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) are leading the companion bill in the House of Representatives.