DETROIT (CN) – Dismissing criminal charges against two Michigan doctors, a federal judge ruled Tuesday that Congress did not have authority to pass a nationwide law banning female genital mutilation and such regulations should be left to states.
In a 28-page opinion, U.S. District Judge Bernard Friedman ruled that Congress had “overstepped its bounds” by enacting a 1996 statute prohibiting female genital mutilation, abbreviated as FGM.
“As despicable as this practice may be, it is essentially a criminal assault,” Friedman wrote. “FGM is not part of a larger market and it has no demonstrated effect on interstate commerce. The Commerce Clause does not permit Congress to regulate a crime of this nature.”
He dismissed most charges brought by the government for mutilation and conspiracy against Dr. Jumana Nagarwala, who allegedly performed the surgeries on nine girls, and against Dr. Fakhruddin Attar, who was accused of allowing the procedures to take place at his Detroit clinic.
According to a criminal complaint filed last year, Nagarwala mutilated the genitals of girls who were sometimes brought by their parents from out-of-state specifically for the procedure.
FGM often involves partial or total removal of the clitoris and is common for girls in parts of Asia, Africa and the Middle East.
Many cultures that practice female genital mutilation do so because they believe it “preserves” a girl’s virginity or makes her more likely to be faithful in marriage, according to the World Health Organization.
The procedure has no health benefits, and WHO issued a joint statement against the practice in 1997. It is now illegal in 30 countries, according to the Center for Reproductive Rights.
It has also been condemned by the United Nations, and Michigan joined 26 other states last year in passing a state law banning FGM following Nagarwala’s arrest.
In addition to tossing key charges against the two doctors, Judge Friedman dismissed mutilation and conspiracy charges against Attar’s wife and another woman accused of helping with the procedures, and four women who allegedly brought their daughters to the clinic.
Nagarwala still faces charges for conspiracy to travel with intent to engage in illicit sexual conduct and obstruction, and other defendants face obstruction charges.
The defendants are represented by Shannon Smith and Molly Blythe of Michigan-based Smith Blythe PC.
Blythe expressed satisfaction with the ruling in an email statement Wednesday.
“Yesterday’s decision by the court is exactly what our justice system is designed to do,” she said. “The judge found Congress, through the United States Constitution, lacked authority to enact the FGM statute. The law warranted this decision and we are happy with it.”
A spokeswoman for the U.S. Department of Justice said the opinion is being reviewed and a decision will be made on whether to appeal.