My Short Take on San Fran's Proposed Circumcision Ban


It has just been announced that Joan Arntz, Director of Elections for the City and County of San Francisco, has certified that the San Francisco MGMbill (male genital mutilation bill) has successfully gathered more than enough signatures to be placed on the ballot in November. 
Should the initiative become law it will become a misdemeanor crime, punishable by an up to $1000 fine and one year in prison, to "circumcise, excise, cut, or mutilate the whole or any part of the foreskin, testicles or penis of another person who has not attained the age of 18 years." There is no religious exemption.

There is much I might say about the proposed ban, which will no doubt continue the upset the Jewish community both in San Francisco and beyond, but for today I would like to make the following brief statement: 
As a Jewish person and a circumcision opponent, I support the efforts of San Franciscans to ban circumcision. Their work is bringing this important human rights affront to the national stage. And I think infant circumcision is really such an awful thing that it should be elevated to the status of a crime. At the same time, I think much more education needs to take place, at the community level, before the wrongfulness of infant circumcision will be broadly understood and accepted. There is a right time for everything, and I do question whether now is the right time for a circumcision ban without a religious exemption. My concern is that people will be so up-in-arms about the perceived violation of religious freedom that they will be unable to hear the important message the anti-circumcision movement is working so hard to get out. Efforts to impose bans might do more harm than good. I don't think this is going to be the case, but I don't know. Despite this reservation, or any others I might have, today I applaud everyone who has been involved in bringing the San Francisco MGMbill to a vote of the people. 


  1. roger desmoulinsMay 19, 2011 at 4:42 AM

    The ban will only move RIC and brises to Oakland and San Mateo. A ban at the city level is meaningless. The right body to deliberate a measure of this nature is the state legislature. The courts will overturn it on First Amendment grounds. And I agree with you Rebecca that the time is not right for a ban. The sex education of America will have to progress a good deal further before a total ban is opportune.

    Much more feasible and defensible would be a statewide ban on unanesthetised circumcisions. No religion requires that a baby or child feel pain while being circumcised.

  2. The circumcision ban efforts greatest value is the public awareness it is causing for the issue of infant circumcision. It takes time to shift a cultural norm. With constant reminders of the harms of infant circumcision, more people will learn that not every man is happy being circumcised. And, possibly, with each article and blog on the proposed ban the cultural norm will shift a little away from the circumcision culture we have in the US.

  3. This effort is bringing the discussion to the mainstream for the first time really. I expect a containment strategy to supplant this effort soon. Restrictions on when and how a circumcision may be offered may be one route to discouraging the practice. A so-called "don't tell, don't sell" policy where physicians may not bring up the subject until after the baby has been stabilized and released from the hospital is one approach. In this way, religious circumcisions won't really be affected, but those who wish to have a bris will undoubtedly be influenced to some degree by decreasing rates, just as it has been so in Northern California. Where else can you find so many Jewish families who have opted for Brit Shalom? Few other places, I imagine.

  4. Rebecca, thanks for chiming in on this development. My initial instinct is to agree that a bill without religious exception is too ambitious. That fact will only serve to galvanize opposition, and the few San Franciscan that would actually consider a bris would simply make the short trip outside of the city.

    A passage of ANY kind of legal restriction on circumcision in a major city could go a long way towards changing commonly held views on the topic. San Francisco does seem like the likeliest place to make that happen, and it would be unfortunate to misplay such a major opportunity.

    1. The problem is that the freedom of religion in the US like all freedoms we supposedly are granted - are individual freedoms. This means that there is no "freedom of religion" argument that can really be made in favor of circumcision when parents force their beliefs upon the child. (Yes I know there are a lot of parental beliefs that are forced upon children but the majority if not all are not permanent yet circumcision is.) To really be following "religious freedom" the child should remain intact until they can decide for themselves. It should also be noted that there are various forms of anti-female mutilation laws throughout the states and all of them consider any form (even just a small ritual knick to let out a little blood) as being illegal and they have no age or religious exceptions (so much for the equal protections ammendment). I think it is quite reasonable to have a law that would restrict circumcisions for all people to be only possible if the individual can consent for themself (unless, of-course, a valid medical necessity occurs - but that never happens in infancy).