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House And Senate Move To Ban Female Cutting In Iowa

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John Pemble/IPR file
The state Senate unanimously passed the bill in March. It will have to reconsider the measure with the educational components added by the House.

A bill getting strong bipartisan support in the Iowa legislature would make it a felony to perform female genital mutilation on an Iowa girl or young woman.

Last year a judge tossed out a federal law that had banned the practice nationwide, ruling it was up to states to prosecute such crimes. Rep. Steven Holt, R-Denison, said this bill is necessary because it’s unclear if current Iowa child abuse laws could be used to prosecute these cases here.

“It is to make absolutely sure that there is no doubt that in the state of Iowa female genital mutilation is not acceptable and is illegal,” Holt said.

The Senate unanimously endorsed the bill in mid-March. The Iowa House Wednesday voted to add an education component to the bill for the medical community, to help doctors treat girls and young women who’ve been cut in this way. The bill also calls for educational outreach to Iowa residents who come from cultures where the practice has been common.

Rep. Marti Anderson, D-Des Moines, said it’s time for female cutting to join the list of cultural practices that have been stopped in the United States.

“Child marriage, polygamy, stoning, dowry murder, honor crimes, foot-binding,” Anderson said. “Those were all framed as cultural issues that border on human rights abuse.”

Rep. Liz Bennett, D-Cedar Rapids, said female cutting is about controlling women’s sexuality.

“I hope that we’ll take this opportunity as we’re focusing on girls, focusing on health, focusing on bodily autonomy again to think about the ways in our culture that we do not protect women and the ways we could all do better,” Bennett said. “…We can protect many other people and we can root out the evils that are right here in our own culture.”

Bennett mentioned conversion therapy for gay and lesbian children as well as questioning the clothing choices of rape victims.

The bill banning female genital mutilation passed the House on a 95-4 vote. It returns to the Senate for a vote on the educational components House members added to the bill.

Updated at 9:25 am on 4/11.  A previous version of this story misidentified Rep. Bennett.