Federal Judge Orders Charges Dropped Against Michigan Doctor In Female Genital Mutilation Case

November 20, 2018 - 3:44 pm

DETROIT (WWJ) - A federal judge has dismissed criminal charges against a Detroit area doctor, declaring that the nation's female genital mutilation law is unconstitutional.

In a ruling handed down Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Bernard Friedman granted defense attorneys' motion to dismiss, agreeing that Congress lacked to authority to make FGM a crime.

The case involved Dr. Jumana Nagarwala, who was accused of performing genital mutilation on six young girls at a Livonia clinic. Charges were also were dismissed against four mothers, from Michigan, Illinois and Minnesota, who took their daughters to the clinic, as well as against another doctor who allegedly assisted Nagarwala.

Through her attorneys, Nagarwala argued that the law that the federal government had been using to charge her was passed through Congress without proper vetting.

The argument is that the act of FGM had no bearing on commerce, which judge Friedman agreed with.

"That clause permits Congress to regulate activity that is commercial or economic in nature and that substantially affects interstate commerce either directly or as part of an interstate market that has such an effect.  The government has not shown that either prong is met," the opinion reads, in part.

[Read the full opinion here]

"The court said in order for Congress to make something a crime, it has to have the authority to do it -- and under a treaty or the commerce clause, or any other part of the Constitution, the judge ruled that female genital mutilation is at best an assault," explained WWJ Legal Analyst Charlie Langton. "And even though the judge ruled in his opion that it may be a despicable act to some, Congress still has to have the authority."

This was believed to have been first case brought under the federal law which criminalized female genital mutilation, which typically involves the cutting of a girl’s genitals, often for cultural or religious reasons.

So Nagarwala face charges under some other statute? Langton notes that there is a state law on the books that criminalizes FGM, however:

"That statute was enacted after the alleged incident here," Langton said. "So probably at this point in time this doctor that was charged will probably be going free, without any type of punishment or even trial whatsoever. It's a big ruling." 

Through her attorney, Nagarwala denied any crime, saying she performed a religious custom on children from her Muslim sect, the Dawoodi Bohra. She said she only “removed mucous” from the alleged victims and then handed the gauze to the family for burial.

Nagarwala still faces charges of conspiracy to travel with intent to engage in illicit sexual conduct and obstruction.