Maine’s House rejected a bill that would criminalize female genital mutilation (FGM), the practice that cuts or removes the outside of the female genitalia.

Instead, the House chose to change the bill and amend it to create “an education and outreach program” to stop the practice in the state’s growing immigrant communities.

The Press Herald reported:

After a lengthy and emotional debate, the House voted 76-71 against creating a new crime of “female genital mutilation” – on top of existing federal and state prohibitions – for a procedure estimated by the United Nations to have been performed on at least 200 million girls and women in 30 countries. Instead, House Democrats supported a version that directs the Maine Department of Health and Human Services to establish outreach and education programs featuring “culturally specific services for communities in the state wherein which female genital mutilation of minors might be practiced.”

Rep. Rachel Talbot explained why she amended the bill:

Rep. Rachel Talbot Ross, D-Portland, introduced the amendment to change the bill to require outreach and education programs aimed at communities in Maine where FGM “might be practiced.” Those programs would include support networks for victims of the practice as well as “culturally sensitive professional training.”

“We all share the same goal, and our shared goal is we don’t want female genital mutilation to happen,” said Rep. Charlotte Warren, D-Hallowell, who noted Talbot Ross’s amendment had the support of national policy groups, victims advocates and the immigrant community.

Those who opposed the original bill believe the laws in Maine are more than enough:

The debate over the bill, L.D. 745, was not whether the practice happens worldwide but rather whether it is occurring in Maine, particularly inside the state’s growing communities of African immigrants.

“I do not believe that it is happening in the state of Maine. I truly do not believe that,” said Rep. Lois Galgay Reckitt, D-South Portland. “And I believe if it was happening, it would be prosecuted vigorously by the federal (laws) or by the abuse statutes in this state.”

However, Circa reported that the Maine Prosecutors Association supported this bill because it would allow the prosecutors “to clarify and specifically identify” female genital mutilation as a crime, “with a clear level of crime attributed to both the person doing the cutting as well as the parents who are accomplices.” That’s “because some prosecutors question whether it is ‘aggravated assault when the parents and the children consent.'”

This newly worded bill will go to the Senate.

Michigan’s Approach to FGM

FGM became a hot topic in April after Michigan authorities charged two doctors..

While Maine pushed aside FGM criminalization, Michigan strengthened penalties for those who perform FGM. From CNN:

Performing FGM or transporting another person in the state for the purpose of undergoing FGM will be punishable by up to 15 years in prison, 10 years more than the federal penalty for the crime.

In addition to increasing prison sentences for those involved in FGM, the series of 12 bills passed by the Michigan legislature would revoke the license of any health professional who assists in or commits the procedure.

The laws state that saying the operation is “required as a matter of custom or ritual” will not be an acceptable defense for committing the crime. Parental consent is also not a legal defense, according to the new laws.