A Masai girl holds a protest sign during the anti-Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) run in Kilgoris, Kenya, April 21, 2007. (AP Photo/Sayyid Azim)
Photo: SAYYID AZIM
Photo: SAYYID AZIM

Ohio lawmakers vote to ban female genital mutilation

Sen. Peggy Lehner, R-Kettering: ‘It goes on a lot more than I would have ever guessed.’

The Ohio House Criminal Justice Committee on Wednesday voted in favor of a bill to stop female genital mutilation in the state.

The bill would make it a crime to perform the procedure on girls under 18 or transport girls for the procedure. It would trigger an automatic review by the State Medical Board of Ohio of doctors who perform the procedure.

The bill passed the Ohio Senate unanimously on Dec. 5. If the House OK’s the measure, it will head to Gov. John Kasich for his signature.

EARLIER STORY

The practice of female genital mutilation on girls under 18 would be specifically outlawed and any doctor who performs the procedure would face an automatic investigation by the State Medical Board of Ohio, under Senate Bill 214.

The legislation, sponsored by state Sens. Louis Terhar, R-Cincinnati, and Peggy Lehner, R-Kettering, passed out of the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday, teeing it up for a possible floor vote next week.

Related: Ohio may ban genital mutilation for girls under 18

FGM is the practice of circumcising or cutting any part of the labia or clitoris. It is common in some African cultures, and has been done historically for reasons that include preserving a girl’s virginity for her husband and to provide a safeguard against extramarital sex.

Medical experts say it can lead to severe pain, bleeding, chronic infections, urination and menstrual problems, psychological damage or even death. It is generally performed on girls between age 4 and 14.

A federal ban on the practice has been on the books since 1996 but was ruled unconstitutional earlier this month by a federal judge, who held that only states can regulate the activity. The practice is prohibited in 26 states, but not Ohio.

The Terhar-Lehner bill would:

  • Make it a second degree felony to perform FGM in Ohio;
  • Prohibit traveling to have the procedure done elsewhere — so-called ”vacation cutting”; and
  • Specify that parental consent or cultural ritual is not a valid defense.

RELATED: Minnesota lawmaker plans fresh push against female genital mutilation

FGM is an emerging health and safety issue, according to written testimony on the bill from Phyllis Carlson-Riehm of ACTION OHIO Coalition for Battered Women.

“Some refugee and immigrant families have chosen to send their young daughters to relatives in their home country to have the procedure done. In other cases FGM has been performed by some doctors associated with refugee or immigrant communities in the U.S.,” she said.

In a case receiving national attention, federal authorities in Michigan say Dr. Jumana Nargawala performed FGM on nine girls from three states, according to The Detroit News. Nargawala was charged under the federal law but had most of those charges dismissed as a result of the recent court ruling.

Carlson-Riehm said it’s important for Ohio to outlaw the practice since the state is home to a large number of refugees and immigrants from countries where FGM is practiced.

RELATED: Judge rules federal law on female genital mutilation unconstitutional

Columbus is home to roughly 50,000 Somali immigrants and virtually all Somali-born women have undergone some form of FGM, according to Kristine Severyn, a Dayton area pharmacist who has researched the issue and supports the bill.

“It goes on a lot more than I would have ever guessed,” Lehner said. “As I learned about it, I thought this is something that causes lifelong damage to a young girl without any kind of consent.”

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