California slaps down attempts to ban circumcision

California has banned local authorities from outlawing male circumcision, striking a final blow to a San Francisco group that had hoped to put the matter to a popular vote.

AFP says

Religious groups applauded Governor Jerry Brown’s signature Sunday of a bill which prevents cities and counties from interfering with parents wishing to circumcise their sons.

The move comes amid renewed debate over the ritual, which is a cornerstone of the Jewish and Muslim faiths.

Earlier this year, a group of San Francisco “intactivists” gathered the 7,000 signatures required to put before voters a ban on young male circumcision.

The activists believe that male circumcision is essentially culturally accepted genital mutilation, and should be a matter of individual, not parental, choice.


Their ballot initiative would have criminalized the circumcision of minors in this western US city except in cases of medical necessity.

But in July, a judge in ruled in favor of a coalition of religious groups, doctors and families who said the proposed ban violated a state law that prohibits local governments from regulating medical procedures.

California lawmakers also jumped in with a bill outlawing local governments from creating their own “patchwork of regulation” around the procedure.
Brown’s signed that bill into law Sunday, effectively imposing a blanket prohibition on anti-circumcision initiatives statewide.

Last July Odyssey Networks produced this video explaining both sides of the issue

The San Francisco Chronicle notes that

Several groups, including the Jewish Community Relations Council, had filed suit to stop the measure. In late July, a San Francisco Superior Court judge ordered the measure taken off the ballot, saying it was “expressly pre-empted” by state law and served “no legitimate purpose.”

Matthew Hess, an activist behind the attempted ban in San Francisco, said Sunday that California had “taken a big step backward. … Circumcision is elective surgery that an adult should be allowed to choose for himself.”

USA Today says

A similar anti-circumcision effort in Santa Monica collapsed earlier this year, as the campaign became associated with anti-Semitic propaganda.

The U.S. circumcision rate is falling, from 85 percent in 1965 for newborn boys in hospitals to 57 percent in 2008, according to the National Hospital Discharge Survey.

Jews and Muslims continue to circumcise boys for religious reasons, and other Americans opt for the procedure based on aesthetics, hygiene, or medical reasons. The American Academy of Pediatrics neither recommends nor discourages infant circumcision, however, citing “insufficient data.”

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This post was last updated: Oct. 4, 2011