Legislature may ban genital mutilation – but would law violate Prop 5 “reproductive autonomy?”
By Guy Page
February 18, 2020 – Does H83, banning female genital cutting of minors, violate the spirit of Proposal 5, the constitutional right to unlimited reproductive autonomy?
The proposed Senate amendment to H83 will be taken up on the floor of the House tomorrow, right before debate and possible override of Governor Scott’s veto of the minimum wage bill.
H83 states that “no person shall knowingly circumcise, excise, or infibulate the whole or any part of the labia majora or labia minora or clitoris of another person who has not attained 18 years of age,” except in cases of medical necessity. “That the procedure is required as a matter of custom or ritual” or that the patient, parent or guardian gave consent is not a defense. It is sponsored by Rep. Dr. George Till (D-Underhill) and 27 other lawmakers, all Democrats or Progressives.
By apparent contrast, Proposal 5, the Constitutional amendment approved by both House and Senate, states “that an individual’s right to personal reproductive autonomy is central tothe liberty and dignity to determine one’s own life course and shall not be denied or infringed unless justified by a compelling State interest achieved by the least restrictive means.”
If Prop 5 is passed in the next biennium by both House and Senate and then by a majority of voters at a statewide referendum in November, 2022, supporters of genital mutilation (mostly from third world countries) could very well argue that removal of the clitoris is an act of “personal reproductive autonomy” because it is intended to promote sexual loyalty of a wife to her husband.
To be clear – no one in the Vermont State House is speaking in favor of genital mutilation, especially when forced on a minor by her parents. Supporters of both Prop 5 and H83 might well say that H83 limits reproductive autonomy because genital mutiliation reduces female sexual pleasure and in some circumstances amounts to one or more persons controlling what a woman does with her body. But what if the patient consents? Isn’t the point of Prop 5 to give “personal reproductive autonomy” to individuals, regardless of how much others abhor the act?
“My body – my choice?” Ultimately, the courts will decide whether genital mutilation would be protected under the proposed Constitutional amendment.