Mamas on Bedrest: Potential Circumcision Ban in San Francisco

May 20th, 2011

San Francisco is poised to be the first city to actually ban circumcision in newborn baby boys. The proposed ban is actually now a ballot issue and will be voted upon in the November 2011 elections. If the measure passes, circumcision would be prohibited among males under the age of 18. The practice would become a misdemeanor offense punishable by a fine of up to $1,000 or up to one year in jail. There would be no religious exemptions.

Circumcision has long been a contentious issue. Opponents argue that it is an unnecessary surgical procedure and puts infant boys at risk for injury and infection. Some even claim that the practice is barbaric because in many settings, no anesthesia is used.

(Non-Religious) Proponents claim that the procedure helps prevent infections, especially sexually transmitted infections/viruses such as Chlamydia, HPV (the virus which causes genital warts and cervical cancer), HIV and penile cancer. To these claims, opponents say the issue has more to do with hygiene and safe sex practices than with the foreskin being a harbinger of bacteria.

Religious proponents are concerned. Circumcision is an ancient practice that dates back nearly to the beginning of time. It began when God made His covenant with Abraham and the Israelites stating that they are to be His chosen people and that they would inherit the land of Canaan, “the promised land” (Today this area encompasses Israel, Palestine, Lebanon and the Western part of Jordan). Abraham and his male descendants are to be circumcised on the 8th day after birth as a sign of keeping the covenant with God. Circumcision is a major tenant of Jewish faith and many Arab Muslims (and non Arab Muslims) also practice circumcision believing that they are descendants of Abraham’s first son with, Ishmael (His mother was Hagar, Sarai’s hand maiden whom Sarai ordered in to Abraham to conceive a child so that they could fulfill God’s promise of an Israeli nation. This debate over who is Abraham’s first born and hence his “chosen” descendant is part of the root of the conflict between Israel and much of the Arab world today! Also shows man should not meddle in God’s business. Never works out very well IMHO!)

But getting back to the topic at hand, I find it very disturbing that a municipality is trying to impose a ban on a religious practice. Aren’t we protected against Religious “persecution” by the First Amendment? While I can agree to ending so called “routine” circumcisions, not allowing the practice for people of Jewish/Muslim faith is a very slippery slope.

Proponents of the ban argue that babies are not able to voice their opinions and since circumcision is an “unnecessary” surgical procedure, it should not be performed until the infant can provide informed consent, age 18. I suppose this is true. But does that them mean that I should not have Christened my children because they could not say whether or not they wanted to be blessed by God? Does that mean that other infants should not be baptized because they could drown (if immersed) and this puts them at risk? I know that these religious practices don’t have the same level of “danger” associated with them as circumcision does, but as tenants of faith, they are no less near to the hearts and faith of people.

Opponents also liken the procedure to female genital mutilation, a common practice in some areas of Africa and here I have to disagree. Circumcisions performed by a trained and experienced Mohel are very clean and very gentle procedures. Likewise, circumcisions performed in hospitals by trained medical staff are also quite clean and have low incidences of injury or infection.

Female genital mutilations are typically performed as a way to prevent young girls from becoming sexually active, and once they are sexually active, from deriving any sort of pleasure from the act. It is an act of violence, dominion and a rape of a woman’s sexuality. They are rarely performed in a clean, let alone sterile, environment and instruments used to cut can be a any old piece of glass or metal  (These are my opinions based on what I have read and have learned from patients I have had the opportunity to treat while practicing clinically.) Comparing a religious circumcision, or even a medical circumcision to female genital mutilation is absurd and just plain inaccurate.

But that aside are circumcisions, even at a much lower level, a violation of a baby boy’s genitals? In my opinion and from the circumcisions that I have witnesses and even assisted in, I have to say no. But are they necessary if there is no family history of penile cancer and one is not Jewish? Probably not.

This will definitely be a heated issue and it will be very interesting to follow. I would love to hear your comments and perspectives. Please provide them here or e-mail them to