Calling the practice a “war on women,” a female legislator wants to make what's been called “female circumcision” a state crime.
Sen. Judy Burges, R-Sun City West, said Arizona is increasingly becoming home to people from other countries where the practice is considered acceptable. But Burges said the practice – she calls it "female genital mutilation'' in her legislation – has profound physical and psychological effects on women all their lives.
Her legislation would make a felon of anyone who not only performs the procedure on a girl younger than 18 but also anyone who tries to take a girl out of Arizona to have that done. SB 1342 would carry a presumptive prison term of seven years for a first offense and nearly 16 years for someone with two or more prior felony convictions.
And the measure, set for debate Monday before the Senate Judiciary Committee, includes a mandatory fine of at least $25,000.
Burges said the practice appears to be limited to those from other countries where women are abused “for the simple reason that the man is the head of the household, he is the dominant figure.” What that means, she said, is that women have little say-so not only about what happens to themselves but also to their daughters.
“It needs to be brought up before the public,” she said. “We need to know about it.”
Burges rejected the possibility that this could be considered a protected cultural or religious practice, one that should not be forbidden if performed in a safe environment.
“It presents physical problems they have to deal with their whole life,” she said. Anyway, Burges said, those who believe in the practice don't necessarily take their young girls to a doctor.
“This is kind of like abortions used to be,” she said. “It's done in back rooms. And it's not performed by surgeons.”
Burges said any comparison of the practice with more routine male circumcision, a practice mandated under Jewish law, is invalid.
“That usually is for cleanliness issues,” she said. “This is not.”
A 1996 federal law already makes the practice illegal when performed in the United States. But it took until last year for Congress to include a provision in the National Defense Authorization Act to make it a crime to take a girl to another country to have the procedure done.
Nearly two dozen other states already have such laws.