Charges brought against two Michigan doctors, two Minnesota mothers and several more involved in the nation's first female genital mutilation court case have been dismissed.
It comes after Detroit District Judge Bernard Friedman ruled that the federal government's 22-year-old ban on female genital mutilation is unconstitutional, saying as "despicable" as it may be, FGM is a "local criminal activity" that should be regulated by states.
It was the first time the law had been tested in the courts, and it involved two 7-year-old girls from Minnesota, who were among several who underwent genital cutting at a clinic in Livonia, Michigan, as part of a religious procedure.
The girls had been told they were going to Detroit for a girls weekend by their mothers, who were also charged in the case.
The Detroit Free Press reports that the charges against all those involved – including ER Dr. Jumana Nagarwala, who had denied carrying out the procedures – have been dropped following the judge's ruling.
Michigan enacted its own stricter FGM ban in the wake of the case, but the parents and medical staff allegedly involved cannot be retroactively charged.
There are 27 states that have criminalized FGM.
The Guardian reports that the U.S. Attorney's Office in Detroit will review the ruling before considering whether to launch an appeal against Friedman's decision.
It is being urged to do so by Equality Now, which argues that this is a national crime concern, saying as many as 500,000 women and girls in America are at risk of being cut or already have been.
"The decision is perceived by FGM survivors around the world as a punch in the gut, including the many women and girls who have shared their intimate and personal stories of living with the negative mental and physical effects of FGM," the organization said.
The charges against Nagarwala, the lead defendant in the case, stated that she is part of an Indian Muslim sect that believes in FGM.
The procedure, which can involve cutting and removing all or part of the clitoral skin, is often used to suppress female sexuality in an attempt to reduce sexual pleasure and promiscuity.
One of the Minnesota girls taken to Michigan told investigators they went on a "special girls trip," and while they were there they went to the doctor because their "tummies hurt."
The doctor performed a procedure to "get the germs out." She was told not to talk about the procedure.
FGM has been banned or criminalized in at least 59 countries and under several international treaties, though is still a common practice particularly in northern and southern African countries, the Guardian notes.