The Corner

Politics & Policy

The President Should Sign the Bill Outlawing Female Genital Mutilation

President Trump in Washington, D.C., November 29, 2020 (Yuri Gripas/Reuters)

A rare worthwhile bipartisan bill has passed Congress that will outlaw female genital mutilation as a matter of federal law. From HR 6100, The STOP FGM Act of 2020”:

“(a) Except as provided in subsection (b), whoever, in any circumstance described in subsection (d), knowingly—

“(1) performs, attempts to perform, or conspires to perform female genital mutilation on another person who has not attained the age of 18 years;

“(2) being the parent, guardian, or caretaker of a person who has not attained the age of 18 years facilitates or consents to the female genital mutilation of such person; or

“(3) transports a person who has not attained the age of 18 years for the purpose of the performance of female genital mutilation on such person,

shall be fined under this title, imprisoned not more than 10 years, or both.”

A word about religious freedom and FGM. The bill provides:

It shall not be a defense to a prosecution under this section that female genital mutilation is required as a matter of religion, custom, tradition, ritual, or standard practice.

That is right and good.

I am a strong defender of religious freedom and the free exercise thereof. But the right is not absolute. The Smith case (which I oppose and hope the SCOTUS will overturn) stripped protection for religious freedom when laws are of general application — as is this bill. In other words, the bill does not single out a particular faith or group in the prohibition.

The Religious Freedom Restoration Act — the law that protected Hobby Lobby, as just one example — would also not apply. The RFRA permits laws that stifle religious actions if there is a compelling state interest in so doing

That designation certainly applies to a law that prohibits the mutilation of minor girls, which, I should note, is not required by the Koran or any holy book of which I am aware and is done for the express purpose of suppressing the victim’s normal sexual functions. FGM is a direct attack on the equal intrinsic dignity of females and hence, an assault on the human exceptionalism philosophy of our societies.

I anticipate that the “intactivists,” that is, zealots who want to outlaw male infant circumcision, will say that their cause is the same as prohibiting FGM. It is not. First, circumcision is a specific religious requirement of Judaism that brings the infant into the faith, and is also strongly promoted for religious reasons in Islam. Second, it does not destroy sexual function, nor is that the purpose of the procedure. Third, it is not undertaken as a means of oppression. Finally, medical associations believe that the decision to circumcise — regardless of religious issues — should be up to the parents as there is a modest hygienic benefit attained by the procedure.

So, no. FGM is not the same as circumcision in the harm caused, its ultimate purpose, or the religious nature of the undertaking.

President Trump should sign the bill with alacrity.