Bill to ban female genital mutilation passes out of Senate health committee; Kentucky is one of 15 states where practice is legal

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By Melissa Patrick
Kentucky Health News

FRANKFORT, Ky. — A bipartisan bill to ban female genital mutilation in Kentucky unanimously passed out of committee Jan. 15 and now goes to the full Senate for consideration.

The World Health Organization defines female genital mutilation, or FGM, as “all procedures that involve partial or total removal of external female genitalia, or other injury to female genital organs for non-medical reasons.”

An FGM survivor named Jenny, who asked to not share her last name for privacy reasons, urged the Senate Health and Welfare committee to pass the bill.

“I’m here today, not just for my story, but for many others who have not found their voice yet,” she  said.

She said a law banning the practice would give women who are surrounded by people who still believe in it, but want to give their daughters “an out”; prompt women who have had this done to them to ask questions, since many think it is done to all females; and let people in other states know that Kentucky is not a “safe haven” to bring their girls here to have this done. Further, she said the law will promote education, which is badly needed.

Kentucky is one of 15 states where FGM is still legal. A federal ban that had been in place for more than two decades was found unconstitutional in 2018, putting the responsibility on states.

The United Nations Population Fund estimates 200 million women and girls have suffered FGM, and the numbers are growing. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 513,000 American females are at risk or have undergone FGM. In Kentucky, an estimated 1,845 females are at risk or have undergone FGM, according to the Population Reference Bureau.

Amanda Parker, senior director of the AHA Foundation, a nonprofit trying to abolish the procedure, told the committee it is usually performed on girls between the ages of 4 and 14.

“This is a form of child abuse that is used to control the sexuality of women and girls,” Parker said. “It predates all major religions and is not mandated by any major religion. It is something that has been co-opted by patriarchal societies and religious sects.”

Parker said the procedure is typically performed on girls with a sharp object, like a razor blade, a pair of scissors or even a piece of glass, without any anesthesia or antiseptic. Following the removal of the external genitalia, what remains is sewn up, leaving only a small hole for urination and menstruation.

She said FGM has no health benefits but can lead to lifelong health and psychological harms.

Senate Bill 72 would make FGM a felony offense. It would also ban trafficking girls across state lines for FGM, and revokes the licenses of medical providers convicted of the practice.

It classifies FGM as a form of child abuse and requires mandatory reporting of it. In addition, it mandates training for law enforcement and requires the state health department to develop, produce and disseminate educational materials about it. It also allows victims of the practice to file civil lawsuits up to 10 years after turning 18.

The bill had 12 sponsors representing both parties. Sen. Julie Raque Adams, R-Louisville, the majority caucus chair, is the primary sponsor.

“As you know, I’m very passionate about child abuse and this is probably the most egregious form of child abuse toward women, young girls that I have recognized,” Adams said.

similar bill did not make it out of committee in 2018. Click here for an AHA Foundation fact sheet about FGM.