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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

False Headline on a Hot Topic

Q: Did Democrats in Maine legalize female genital mutilation?

A: No. That practice is illegal across the U.S.


Female genital mutilation has been outlawed across the country since 1996. It is not legal in any U.S. state.

But, an incendiary headline has been circulating on Facebook claiming: “Maine House Democrats Vote to Allow Female Genital Mutilation.”

Facebook users flagged it as potentially false. It is.

The underlying story is based on a recent vote in the Maine legislature, which was considering a bill that would have criminalized the practice under state law in addition to the existing federal law.

The Senate and the House of Representatives in Maine failed to agree on the text of the bill, and the measure died at the end of the session on April 18. The failure of the bill, however, doesn’t mean that Maine will now “allow female genital mutilation,” as the headline claimed.

Debate over the bill had been highly charged for months. The Southern Poverty Law Center published emails in February between one Republican representative and a group called ACT for America, which the SPLC has designated as hate group.

ACT for America has “helped pass” female genital mutilation legislation in nine states, according to the group’s website. It has also “helped pass” legislation that bans Sharia Law and legislation that “protect those who ‘see something’ and ‘say something,'” according to its website.

The American Civil Liberties Union also had weighed in on an early version of the bill in Maine, saying in a statement, “This bill is nothing more than an attempt to single out behavior that is commonly attributed to certain religious and ethnic communities as different from other forms of abuse.” The ACLU called the bill “redundant,” because “there are already severe penalties under both Maine and federal law that cover FGM.”

According to a women’s advocacy group called Equality Now, there were 26 states as of September 2017 that had enacted legislation criminalizing female genital mutilation in addition to the federal ban. Those laws differ in a number of ways, including the age-range they cover and the allowance for culture as defense.

Editor’s note: FactCheck.org is one of several organizations working with Facebook to debunk false stories flagged by readers on the social media network.


18 U.S. Code Section 116 — Female genital mutilation. Pub. L. 104-208. 3 Jan 2012.

Maine House Democrats Vote to Allow Female Genital Mutilation.” Minuteman-Militia.com. 25 Apr 2018.

128th Maine Legislature. An Act To Prohibit the Practice of Female Genital Mutilation of a Minor. Final disposition 18 Apr 2018.

Southern Poverty Law Center. “Maine State Rep. Sirocki seeks support from anti-Muslim hate group for FGM bill.” SPLCenter.org. 5 Feb 2018.

ACT for America. State Legislation. ACTforAmerica.org. Accessed 27 Apr 2018.

American Civil Liberties Union. “Statement on FGM Bill.” ACLUMaine.org. 23 Jun 2017.

Equality Now. “Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) in the United States.” March 2016.

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“Maine House Democrats Vote to Allow Female Genital Mutilation.”
Wednesday, April 25, 2018