Despite a rigorous debate between Democrat Sen. Janet Petersen and anybody else who would listen, Senate File 346 passed the Iowa Senate unanimously on Tuesday. The bill criminalizes the practice of female genital mutilation (FGM) and defines what is and is not mutilation. It does provide exceptions for necessary medical procedures.
Debate started with an amendment by Sen. Amy Sinclair to lower the penalty of FGM from a class D felony to an aggravated misdemeanor. It also changed the crime of transporting a minor for the procedure to include any transportation, not out of state transportation.
Republican Sen. Jake Chapman added an amendment to Sinclair’s amendment to keep in place the class D felony punishment.
“I feel very strongly that what is occurring today would fit the crime of a class D felony rather than an aggravated misdemeanor,” he said.
Petersen asked Sinclair if Chapman’s amendment would allow the bill to sync with the House version. Sinclair had said during committee that she was working closely with the House to make sure the two bills would conform, according to Petersen.
Sinclair said she could not control what other members of the Senate do, just like she couldn’t control Petersen from offering her amendment.
“I didn’t bring Senator Chapman’s amendment,” Sinclair said. “I have advised members of the House I’m working with this amendment does exist.”
Petersen noted the amendment may make it more difficult to get a bill to the desk of Gov. Kim Reynolds. She said the Senate was not attempting to sync the bill with the House’s version today.
Chapman responded in his closing statement on the amendment.
“If the House refuses to take this bill because the class D felony then shame on the House,” he said. “I don’t think that’s the case. I think we have a responsibility to do what we think is in the best interest of Iowans. This practice is horrific. This practice should be classified as torture frankly. I think it’s only appropriate that we maintain that this is a class D felony.”
Chapman thanked Sinclair for working with the House, but ultimately he said he agreed with what he’s heard from Democrats in the Senate many times — the Senate should do what the Senate wants to do.
“We have an opportunity to send over a very strong message to the House that this is not OK in Iowa,” Chapman said.
A voice vote was held on Chapman’s amendment, which passed. Sen. Charles Schneider did not hear any objections, but Democrat Sen. Joe Bolkcom pointed out there were nos on the amendment. He declined, however, when asked if he wanted a record vote. Republican senators then requested one.
Democrat Sen. Rob Hogg was the lone no vote on the board.
Sinclair’s amendment passed as well, as amended.
“While this is not the amendment that I had anticipated when I had it drafted, I still believe it’s a good amendment that addresses the transporting of minor children to have this crime against her completed,” she said.
After both amendments were adopted, Petersen launched into her floor speech against gender inequality, which can be read here.
Once she wrapped up her remarks, Chapman said he was glad to be back on the bill and thanked Petersen for her comments.
“But at no point in time did I hear anything that dealt with female genital mutilation,” he said.
He also expressed gratitude to Sinclair for bringing the legislation forward.
“Prior to this legislation I was not even aware that this practice was occurring,” he said. “I think we have an obligation as a legislature to stop this practice or at least penalize this practice.”
Sen. Sinclair wrapped up comments by addressing Petersen’s prior comments, noting this bill certainly does fight gender inequality.
“Removal of their clitoris from their body against their will,” Sinclair said. “This bill matters and it matters more than a tax on tampons.”
In 2012 half a million women in America were at risk for FGM, Sinclair noted. In Iowa the number was 5,000. A court ruling from the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan ruled the U.S. government has no authority to prohibit FGM of children, stating it was a matter for state law enforcement.
“Well ladies and gentlemen, today it is our job to do that,” Sinclair said. “This bill protects children from an act that has been deemed a human rights violation by every major international organization. If that isn’t the role of this body I don’t know what is. I could go on forever. It’s horrifying the pictures I’ve seen in preparation for this. The stories I’ve heard. I won’t continue, but I urge the body to please pass this bill that is about gender equality and support the young ladies in this country and specifically in this state.”