Female Genital Mutilation Charges Against Michigan Doctors Dismissed

November 21, 2018 Updated: November 21, 2018

A federal judge claimed that the United States government erred in outlawing female genital mutilation, claiming that Congress “overstepped its bounds,” in a decision on Nov. 20 that dismissed charges against eight Muslims—including two doctors—who mutilated the genitals of nine girls at a suburban Detroit clinic.

Female genital mutilation, known as FGM, involves cutting into the female genital organs and removing part or all of the external genitalia, according to the World Health Organization. FGM is primarily performed on young girls.

The procedure “has no health benefits” and “is recognized internationally as a violation of the human rights of girls and women,” the agency said.

U.S. District Judge Bernard Friedman claimed in his ruling that “as despicable as this practice may be,” Congress didn’t have the authority to pass a law 22 years ago that outlawed the mutilation and that each state would have to do that on its own.

“As laudable as the prohibition of a particular type of abuse of girls may be … federalism concerns deprive Congress of the power to enact this statute,” Friedman wrote in his 28-page opinion (pdf). “Congress overstepped its bounds by legislating to prohibit FGM … FGM is a ‘local criminal activity’ which, in keeping with long-standing tradition and our federal system of government, is for the states to regulate, not Congress.”

Michigan was the 26th U.S. state to officially ban the practice when it did so shortly after the group of eight were charged in April 2017. Forty-four countries had banned the procedure by law, including Liberia just this year, according to the United Nations.

Girls Screamed, Cried

In his ruling, Friedman dismissed mutilation and conspiracy charges against Dr. Jumana Nagarwala, who performed the surgery, and Dr. Fakhruddin Attar, who allowed his clinic in Livonia, Michigan, to be used for the procedure.

The same charges were dismissed against Attar’s wife, Farida, and Tahera Shafiq, who assisted in the procedure, as well as four women who took their daughters to the clinic.

Court records describe minor girls from Michigan, Illinois, and Minnesota being taken to the clinic under false pretenses. When they underwent FGM, some cried, screamed, and bled. One was given Valium ground in liquid Tylenol in an attempt to keep her calm, reported the Detroit Free Press.

The defendants are Muslims who are part of a sect called Dawoodi Bohra.

Nagarwala admitted performing the procedure but said it was a religious custom. She also said that it didn’t involve cutting, but documents obtained by the Free Press indicated the procedure included surgical removal of a portion of at least one girl’s genitalia. Nagarwala still faces conspiracy to travel with intent to engage in illicit sexual conduct and obstruction charges. Others in the case face obstruction charges.

“I did think he would rule in our favor,” defense attorney Shannon Smith, who filed a motion on behalf of Nagarwala to have the charges dismissed, said of Friedman. “When I first started researching, I was not sure how strong [the motion] would be, but I became more confident this would be the right result.”

Headed to Supreme Court

A spokeswoman said Tuesday that the U.S. attorney’s office was reviewing Friedman’s opinion.

FGM survivor and social activist Mariya Taher, who is working to end the brutal practice worldwide, said that the ruling would harm young girls who face being mutilated.

“Oh my God, this is crazy,” Taher told the Free Press. “Unfortunately, this is going to embolden those who believe that this must be continued … they’ll feel that this is permission, that it’s OK to do this.”

“In this day and age, for FGM to still occur—and a federal government can’t regulate this with a human rights violation—is very bizarre. This is not what I expected. It’s so not what I expected,” added Yasmeen Hassan, executive global director for Equality Now, an international women’s rights organization. “I don’t think it’s possible for the federal government not to appeal this case. My feeling is that it will go all the way to the Supreme Court.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

From NTD News

Follow Zachary on Twitter: @zackstieber
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