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Constructing the female body: using female genital mutilation law to address genital-normalizing surgery on intersex children in the United States

Sylvan Fraser (interACT, Sudbury, Massachusetts, United States of America)

International Journal of Human Rights in Healthcare

ISSN: 2056-4902

Article publication date: 14 March 2016

Abstract

Purpose

The purpose of this paper is to explore the harms suffered by intersex children who are subjected to medically unnecessary genital-normalizing surgery (GNS) and the possible applicability of statutes prohibiting female genital mutilation (FGM) to certain cases of GNS to redress this harm in the USA.

Design/methodology/approach

Consulting publications by medical researchers and intersex activists alike, this comment reviews the procedures undertaken as part of GNS (most commonly including clitoral reduction) and the reasons behind these procedures. It also parses the language of federal and state statutes prohibiting FGM in the USA.

Findings

Surgical practices that include clitoral cutting when the procedure is not necessary to the health of the person on whom it is performed constitute FGM and are punishable under federal and certain state laws in the USA. GNS with clitoral reduction fits the definition of FGM because it is performed for cosmetic and social reasons, not medical necessity.

Originality/value

Acknowledging GNS with clitoral reduction as FGM is a crucial strategy to ensure that female-assigned intersex children’s rights to bodily autonomy are protected to the same extent as non-intersex children’s rights. Intersex legal activists in the USA should press for enforcement of FGM statutes as to female-assigned intersex children until the medical practitioners who continue to defend and perform GNS see the procedures as illegal genital mutilation.

Keywords

Acknowledgements

Thanks to Anne Tamar-Mattis, Alesdair Ittelson, and Julie Greenberg for reviewing drafts of this work and providing valuable feedback.

Citation

Fraser, S. (2016), "Constructing the female body: using female genital mutilation law to address genital-normalizing surgery on intersex children in the United States", International Journal of Human Rights in Healthcare, Vol. 9 No. 1, pp. 62-72. https://doi.org/10.1108/IJHRH-05-2015-0014

Publisher

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Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2016, Emerald Group Publishing Limited