January 15, 2013
American Effort to Ban Circumcision of Minors Kicks into High Gear
Genital integrity activists from across the country are demanding that lawmakers ban the practice of circumcising boys. Popularly known as “intactivists”, these children’s rights advocates submitted the Male Genital Mutilation (MGM) Bill proposal to more than 2,000 legislators this week in an effort to require gender neutrality in federal and state laws that regulate genital cutting.
As director of MGMbill.org’s Indiana state office in Indianapolis, Jeff Cowsert wants all boys to be able to grow up with their genitals left intact. “When I was eight years old, my religious friends told me about circumcision,” said Cowsert. “I was silently outraged, and for the remainder of my childhood I mourned the fact that I didn't have a complete body. I would not have chosen to be cut if given the choice, and I strongly feel that infant circumcision needs to be banned so that men can make their own choices about their own bodies when they are mature adults.”
Ending male circumcision is a goal shared by many women, as well. Shelley Wright-Estevam is a mother and business owner who serves as the group’s state office director in Selbyville, Delaware. “You shouldn’t have to be born female to be protected from genital cutting,” said Wright-Estevam, who has frequently been spotted spreading her message of intactivism on the boardwalk in nearby Rehoboth Beach. “I have heard some people argue that parents should be the ones to make that decision, but violence against a child is not a private matter. Circumcision is not just unnecessary; it also removes a male’s most sensitive body part. It's unethical, painful, harmful, and occasionally even fatal.”
Male circumcision was one of the top issues for lawmakers around the world in 2012. It started in January when a Helsinki district court convicted a man of assault and battery for circumcising two Muslim boys. The following month, the Swedish Pediatric Society issued a statement calling circumcision an “assault” that should be banned. Then, in June, the Centre Party in Norway called on the Red-Green coalition government to grant boys legal protection from circumcision.
Two months later in August, the Tasmanian Law Reform Institute recommended that the state impose a general prohibition on circumcision while Denmark opened an investigation to determine if circumcision violates its health code. And in October, Finland’s largest opposition party promised to introduce a bill that would criminalize circumcision of boys.
But the biggest news came out of Germany over the summer, when a Cologne district court ruled that circumcision of male children is a crime. Although Germany’s parliament later overrode the decision by passing a new law, the German Pediatric Association called for that law to be rejected, stating that boys have “the same basic constitutional legal rights to physical integrity as girls”.
Circumcision was a hot topic in America, as well, when children’s rights groups slammed an American Academy of Pediatrics policy statement that sanctioned parental access to newborn circumcision. New York City also implemented disclosure and consent rules regarding the practice of ritual circumcision after two baby boys died from contracting herpes during the procedure. And with H.R. 2400 (the “Religious and Parental Rights Defense Act of 2011”) failing to get past the House Energy and Commerce Committee, the path is now clear for state governments to prohibit circumcision of male minors within their own borders.
Matthew Hess, president of MGMbill.org, said lawmakers can’t hide from the issue forever. “There are too many people speaking out against circumcision now,” said Hess. “What once was a trickle of condemnation has now become a tidal wave. Modern parents are armed with information on the harmful effects of foreskin amputation, and circumcised men are much more willing to speak out against what was done to them as infants. I think the days of legalized childhood circumcision in this country are numbered.”
In addition to submitting the MGM Bill proposal to every member of the 113th Congress, the group’s representatives submitted similar bills to every state lawmaker in California, Delaware, Florida, Indiana, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Virginia, and Washington.