Senate File 212 advanced out of the Judiciary committee on Wednesday via a voice vote without any dissenters. The bill creates a criminal offense of female genital mutilation and provides penalties.
“The bill we have before us today is simply an extension of current federal law,” said Republican Sen. Amy Sinclair.
A federal district court struck down a female genital mutilation ban citing it was a state law enforcement issue.
“While that is not the district in which we reside, we do believe it’s important that Iowa continues to protect women and girls from this procedure and so we have taken the federal language and moved it into state code,” Sinclair said.
Sinclair said it’s a bipartisan bill. She met on Wednesday with Representatives Marti Anderson and Ashley Hinson to work out details between the House and Senate.
“Additionally this is a national issue,” Sinclair said. “An international issue even, if you will. Internationally it is recognized as a human rights violation.”
Iowa receives an F grade from the AHA Foundation. The group says 5,142 women and girls are at risk in Iowa. Twenty-two states have yet to criminalize female genital mutilation, including Iowa.
Sinclair said the bill is not suddenly making the practice illegal since it is already illegal from a federal basis. There are concerns about education on the issue and whether or not passing this state law would drive the practice underground.
An amendment was offered by Democrat Sen. Janet Petersen. Seeing as Sinclair was waiting for an amendment that would help sync the House and Senate bills together, Republicans voted against Petersen’s amendment.
Democrat Sen. Rob Hogg asked Sinclair to explain why groups like the Iowa Coalition Against Domestic Violence and Iowa Coalition Against Sexual Assault would be registered against the bill.
“They believe this should end as well,” Sinclair said. “Their opposition was in concern it would drive the practice underground and actually cut down on women participating in health care as well, which is where the education pieces comes in.”
Concern over the level of punishment was expressed as well. Currently it is a class D felony, but conversation is happening that would lower the act to an aggravated misdemeanor.
“These are refugee populations and a class D felony gets them deported,” Sinclair said. “There’s some concern women would not report the offense if they’re worried about their family members being deported.”
Hogg said he wants to see the victim advocate groups get on board.
Republican Sen. Jake Chapman said it’s hard to imagine a practice that is already illegal based on federal law moving more underground after the state criminalizes the act.
“I think it calls in some real credibility issues,” Chapman said of the organizations that are not registered in support of the bill. I was not aware of the grotesque way in which this stuff is done and what it accomplishes. I had the opportunity to cosponsor this bill and did some more research and I would agree with those organizational statements that this is a real travesty against humanity.
“These can be young girls that are not making this decision for themselves.”
Democrat Sen. Tony Bisignano said he was concerned about language involving transport. Currently the bill punishes for transporting someone out of the state for the purpose of performing the procedure.
Sinclair said it was an unintended loophole that could still be closed. Ultimately, the bill needs to become law.
“I don’t want to belabor the point, this bill just criminalizes the act of female genital mutilation on minors,” Sinclair said. “There are options for medical necessary conditions, which I think is important. I don’t know what that would be, but I certainly don’t want to limit the medical field and health and well being of young girls.
“This bill protects children from an act that has been deemed a human rights violation by all the credible, major world health organizations. Ladies and gentlemen, if this isn’t the role of this body here today, then I don’t know what is.”
The House Judiciary committee also passed a similar bill out of committee on Wednesday.