N.C. Legislature building (copy)

The North Carolina State Legislative Building.

A bill in the N.C. Senate that would ban female genital mutilation cleared the first of two House committee steps Thursday.

Senate Bill 9 was filed by state Sen. Joyce Krawiec, R-Forsyth, on Jan. 31. It cleared the Senate by a 46-0 vote March 25.

The bill now goes to the House Rules and Operations committee, where it will be heard at 3 p.m. Monday.

Female genital mutilation is defined as the partial or complete removal/circumcision of the labia majora, labia minora, or clitoris, for nonmedical reasons. The practice is done in parts of India and northern and southern Africa as a means of controlling the sexuality of women. It’s unclear how many such procedures are done in North Carolina.

It is a criminal offense in 34 states, banned in 59 countries and considered a human-rights violation by the World Health Organization.

However, a federal law banning the act was struck down in November by a federal court in Michigan, which said states should decide what they want to permit.

Krawiec said she filed the bill “because we must protect our girls from this abuse of being mutilated ... and this barbaric procedure.”

“When this issue has been brought up, most people can’t believe it’s not already illegal to do this in North Carolina,” she said.

When asked about the prevalence of female genital mutilation in North Carolina, or what counties are affected in particular, Krawiec has said she is not aware of any specific data for the state.

“We just want to make sure it never happens in North Carolina,” Krawiec said.

Krawiec said federal court ruling could prompt people who support the practice to bring underage girls to North Carolina to have the procedure done here without fear of facing a felony.

The bill, if signed into law, would make it a Class C felony — with a 44- to 182-month prison sentence — for someone who performs the procedure in North Carolina and for a parent, guardian or another person who consents to the procedure.

The bill would be effective Dec. 1, if it becomes law. Krawiec said the effective date would “give time for notification of the new statute to legal authorities, and give time to educate and notify medical providers of the change in statute.”

State Sen. Floyd McKissick Jr., D-Durham, said during a brief Judiciary committee discussion period that “the need for this bill is undebatable.”

According to a Brigham and Women’s Hospital report, 4,287 girls and women, including 973 under age 18, in North Carolina come from families who immigrated here from countries that follow the practice. The report says those girls and women could be at risk of having female genital mutilation performed on them.

According to an NPR report, U.S. District Judge Bernard Friedman ruled in November that Congress “overstepped its bounds” in prohibiting the practice in 1996.

Friedman said 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.”

The ruling dismissed charges of FGM and conspiracy against two Michigan doctors accused of cutting at least nine girls in a Detroit clinic. The ruling dismissed charges against two mothers accused of assisting in the procedures, and four mothers accused of bringing their daughters to the clinic for the practice, some across state lines.

The defendants are members of the Indian Muslim Dawoodi Bohra community, which practices a form of FGM as a religious rite of passage.

Krawiec’s bill creates a surgical exemption if FGM is performed as a medically necessary procedure by a state-licensed medical practitioner, including for a mother as or after she gives birth.

The bill states that it is not a legal defense to claim that FGM was performed as a requirement of custom or ritual. The bill also would not allow a defense that a female under age 18 had given permission to have the procedure.

Elizabeth Yore, head of the national #EndFGMToday initiative, said Monday that “the progress of anti-FGM legislation at the state level has been positive and uplifting, as we see more and more states considering laws to protect women and girls from the emotional and physical damage of female genital mutilation.”

“However, 22 states do not have laws protecting females from this ghastly practice — and that must change,” she said.

In most studies, the number of procedures is calculated by estimating the size of immigrant populations from countries that practice female genital cutting and then multiplying the size of the female immigrant population by the rate at which female genital cutting occurs in their country of origin.

“If there are 10 women and girls from a country of origin in which 50 percent of the women and girls have undergone female genital cutting, researchers conclude that five women and girls are at risk,” said Kristina Gupta, an assistant professor of women’s, gender and sexuality studies at Wake Forest University.

Gupta said it remains “unknown whether this is a real problem in North Carolina” because it is unknown “whether all, some or none of these women and girls actually underwent female genital cutting.”

“I don’t think it is known whether immigrants, their children or their grandchildren are more at risk.”

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rcraver@wsjournal.com 336-727-7376 @rcraverWSJ

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