A UK health authority plans to equate women who consented to vagina piercings to victims of “female genital mutilation,” a controversial effort that could turn thousands of professional body piercers into criminals overnight.

Next month, the Department of Health says it will implement new National Health Service standards on women who paid to have their labia or clitoris cosmetically altered, labeling them as having undergone a “harmful procedure” in accordance with rules outlined by the World Health Organization.

“While there are challenges in this area and adult women may have genital piercings, in some communities girls are forced to have them,” a Department of Health spokesperson told the London Evening Standard.

The Department of Health characterizes FGM as “any procedure that’s designed to alter or injure a girl’s (or woman’s) genital organs for non-medical reasons,” noting that a maximum sentence of 14 years imprisonment can be imposed “for carrying out FGM or helping it to take place.”

According to the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, female genital mutilation, also known as female circumcision, affects 23,000 girls under 15 in England and Wales, and up to 60,000 women in total.

Despite the Department claiming it will only go after “genital piercings that have been done within an abusive context,” members of the tattoo and piercing industry, however, argue the regulations unfairly target a completely voluntary procedure, and fear they will be caught in the crosshairs once the law goes into effect.

“It undermines the serious nature of FGM to in any way compare it to a consensual body piercing. FGM is often carried out on minors by force and clearly without consent,” says Tattoo & Industry Piercing Union spokesman Marcus Henderson.

“Most responsible piercers won’t do any intimate piercings on anyone under the age of 18,” Henderson told BBC Newsbeat. “Now we’re faced with a situation where men are able to make up their mind and consent to an intimate piercing where women are not.”

The Union is currently working on a response to the NHS’ new rules.

Females, whom the new laws are intended to protect, are also at odds with the rules. One woman, “who has a ring through the hood of her clitoris and did not want her full name used,” told Huffington Post UK she thought the ‘designer vagina’ regulations at first to be a “joke.”

“How dare anybody tell me how I’m ‘allowed’ to decorate my own body? I got a clitoris ring purely because I think they look pretty – the same reason I got the piercings in my ears when I was 10, but this time without the need for my mother’s consent, because I’m a grown woman,” a person named Megan said.

“Are they imposing similar guidelines regarding genital piercings on men? Or is it only women who are deemed incapable of taking responsibility for their own bodies?”

Other women expressed their outrage on Twitter:

Clearly the health authority’s audacity in dictating what surgical procedures women can have performed amounts to government asserting ownership over one’s body, and is just another example of how the road to hell is paved with supposedly good intentions.

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