On July 16, 2021, members of the United Kingdom’s (U.K.’s) Parliament proposed an amendment to the current Health and Care Bill, which aims to reduce bureaucracy within the National Health Service, increase accountability, and help integrate health services across England. The amendment adds a clause to the bill to create a new offense of testing for virginity. Such testing occurs when women undergo an examination of their genitalia, typically by a doctor or midwife, to determine whether their hymen is intact. The amendment would also establish a further offense of undertaking hymenoplasty surgery, where the hymen is restored. Both procedures have been condemned by the United Nations and the World Health Organization, which state that the test and surgery are a violation of human rights.
The amendment includes an exemption that would apply to registered medical practitioners who perform surgeries that are necessary for a person’s physical or mental health, or surgeries on females in any stage of labor or who have just given birth, if the surgery is connected to the labor or birth. The amendment provides that when “determining whether an operation is necessary for the mental health of a girl it is immaterial whether she or any other person believes that the operation is required as a matter of custom or ritual.”
If the bill is enacted, the offense will be punishable, upon summary conviction, by a fine and/or up to a year of imprisonment, and any person found guilty of the offense whose profession is subject to statutory regulation must be referred to the regulator for investigation.
The proposed offense of hymenoplasty would cover any person who undertakes a surgical procedure “for the purpose of re-attaching membrane tissue, creating scar tissue or otherwise attempting to re-create the hymen in the vagina of a patient.” The clause would also provide for the offense of advertising the service of hymenoplasty, or services to “re-virginise” a patient. The offense would be punishable, upon conviction, with up to five years’ imprisonment, and any person found guilty of the offense whose profession is subject to statutory regulation must be referred to the regulator for investigation.
The amendments include the creation of an offense of aiding, abetting, counseling, or procuring a person to establish whether a person is a virgin by physically contacting the person’s genitalia or engaging in the same acts to get a person to re-create the hymen in a person’s vagina.
To ensure that individuals do not simply travel outside the U.K. to evade the ban, the amendment provides that it would have extraterritorial application to offenses provided for in the amendment that are committed by U.K. nationals or residents overseas.The amendment was proposed after a BBC investigation revealed that up to 22 medical clinics in Britain offered hymenoplasty surgery for up to 3,000 British pounds (£) (about US$4,100) and virginity tests for between £150 and £300 (about US$205 and US$410). While medical practitioners note that there is no evidence that the test can prove whether a women has had sex, the results from individuals who have been tested and fail can often result in honor-based violence committed against the person failing the test.