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A Detroit area physician faces federal charges for allegedly performing female genital mutilation on multiple 6- to 7-year-old girls as part of a religious and cultural practice at a medical clinic in Livonia. Detroit Free Press

A key distinction between male circumcision and female gender mutilation is the latter has more serious side effects.

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Protesters outside of the U.S. federal courthouse in Detroit today argued to  outlaw circumcision of boys in the wake of last week's announcement of a highly publicized criminal case of female genital mutilation. The demonstrators say such mutilation doesn't just happen to girls, and that boys need protection, too.

The protest came as Dr. Jumana Nagarwala, 44, of Northville, appeared in court for a detention hearing at which she was ordered to remain locked up without bond  on charges she mutilated the genitals of two Minnesota girls. She was charged last Thursday with genital mutilation following an FBI investigation into allegations that the two girls came to metro Detroit in February with their mothers and had their genitals cut at a Livonia clinic by Nagarwala.

While the case has triggered international headlines and sparked public outrage,  the protesters said that boys also need protection from this type of procedure, as they likened circumcision to genital mutilation.

“All babies should be protected and be able to keep their whole bodies,” said Julie Colon, 26, who attended the protest with her toddler son on her back. “There’s just no reason for any child to be altered at birth or really anytime.”

Jody Farrugia, 35, a registered nurse at the Detroit Medical Center, said she has long been opposed to circumcision and tries to talk new parents out of it, but nobody seems willing to listen. “I see the risks and harms daily. I always encourage mothers to keep their sons intact but they don’t think twice. They think it’s gross, they think it’s cleaner.”

“I still hear their screams from down the hallway. It haunts me.”

►Related:More genital mutilation victims likely out there, feds say

►Related:What is female genital mutilation?

Faruggia said circumcision can cause a certain number of health complications, including too much skin being taken off, which can lead to painful and tight erections as an adult. It can contribute to male erectile dysfunction and sometimes a jagged cut means repeating the surgery, she said.

She was holding a sign that said ‘Only quacks cut healthy children.’ She noted that her son has not been circumcised and he is healthy.

Another protester was Jerry Boor, 70, of Rochester Hills, who believes both science and the Bible are against circumcision.

He noted that his mother had him circumcised but he chose not to circumcise his son after researching the issue and concluding it wasn’t a medical necessity. “I love her but she didn’t know any better,” he said of his mother.

According to organizers of the protest, the genitals of 49,000 baby boys are cut in Michigan every year at the request of parents, denying a boy's right to intact and normal genitals. They say they are upset that doctors are legally allowed to cut the genitals of boys, without any medical necessity, but that a federal law prohibits cutting the genitals of girls and makes it a 5-year-felony.

"The genitals of both girls and boys needs to be protected from the harm of any genital cutting practice," says Norm Cohen, executive director of NOCIRC of Michigan, a nonprofit, consumer-rights advocacy group that researches circumcision effects. “Michigan has one of the highest rates of circumcision in the world. This unnecessary custom violates a child’s right to bodily integrity and normal functions.”

According to the group, in Michigan, 83% of newborn boys are circumcised at a cost of more than $11 million per year. The group said it believes that male circumcision is driven by the same reasons used to justify female genital mutilation: Tradition, cleanliness, appearance, medical myths and sexual moderation.

Opponents of female genital mutilation disagree and argue there are key differences in the procedures, specifically: there are more serious short-term and long-term health consequences for girls who undergo genital mutilation, where boys typically do not have those consequences, and the procedure is often performed on women with no anesthesia and in unsanitary conditions, where most circumcisions are performed in hospitals and with anesthesia.

►Related:Detroit doctor accused of genital mutilation on 7-year-old girls

As some medical experts on the topic stated in a 2015 article by the Atlantic:

"Male circumcision does no harm. Female gender mutilation does. Male circumcision cuts the foreskin, FGM cuts the clitoris — the two things cut are not even remotely the same. For male circumcision to be equivalent to FGM, the entire tip of the male’s penis would need to be cut off  ... Constantly trying to claim they are equivalent practices when they are not takes away from the unique seriousness of female 'circumcision/mutilation,' as most cases are performed during a traumatic developmental period and remove most sexual sensation, which is not true with male circumcision."

Circumcision opponents, however, argue that polls indicate that most parents decide to circumcise their sons for reasons other than health care, but physicians profit by promoting it and convincing insurance companies to pay for it.

“Doctors and hospitals profit by perpetuating the myth that infant circumcision is health care. It is not," Cohen states. "It is a harmful custom that removes a normal, functioning part of a child’s genitals at the request of parents."

Contact Tresa Baldas: tbaldas@freepress.com.

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