Group wants Maine voters to ban female genital mutilation

July 22, 2018 GMT

PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — A group led by Maine conservatives has launched an effort aimed at having voters explicitly ban female genital mutilation, according to recent state campaign finance filings.

The political action committee Prevent FGM in Maine filed its initial financial report on Wednesday. Its report didn’t list any donors or contributions.

More than 200 million women and girls in 30 countries have experienced genital mutilation. Health workers have warned against the risks of the practice, in which typically the external genitalia is removed and the vagina is sewn almost closed.

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Female genital mutilation is illegal on the federal level and punishable by five years in prison, and 26 states have outlawed it. Maine Democrats and Republicans have failed to pass stricter penalties against female genital cutting.

There isn’t evidence that genital mutilation is happening in Maine, but Republicans have released Medicaid billing figures that they claim show there are people receiving treatment for female genital mutilation in the state.

State filings show Prevent FGM in Maine is led by GOP operative Ben Trundy, who hopes to get Maine’s question on the ballot in 2019. He said the group must get roughly 61,000 signatures before the year’s end.

Trundy said the proposed question’s wording is still being finalized, but he said the referendum would include having the state create an outreach and educational program.

“I think it’s important to protect vulnerable citizens,” Trundy said, later adding, “It makes it hard for district attorneys’ offices across the state to enforce laws because there’s no state mandate.”

Kennebec County District Attorney Maeghan Maloney testified last year that the Maine Prosecutors Association didn’t feel confident it could charge someone with committing female genital mutilation without passage of additional legislation.

Democratic Attorney General Janet Mills, a gubernatorial candidate, has argued she could already prosecute “such outrageous acts” under Maine’s criminal code.

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Democratic Rep. Barbara Cardone sponsored a failed bill that would have made female genital mutilation illegal in Maine. Her legislation also would have funded education and outreach programs in communities “in which female genital mutilation of minors might be practiced.”

The American Civil Liberties Union of Maine and the Immigrant Resource Center of Maine have said stricter criminal sanctions could make people in need of medical treatment reluctant to seek it.