Friday, March 20, 2015

FLORIDA: Arrest ordered of mother protecting 4yo from cutting

Sun-Sentinal (Palm Beach, Florida)
March 10, 2015

Judge orders West Boynton mom's arrest in circumcision case

by Mark Freeman
Despite the threat of being jailed Tuesday, a West Boynton mother hid with her 4-year-old son in a domestic violence shelter, the latest twist in a widely reported court fight to stop the boy's planned circumcision.

But Palm Beach County Circuit Judge Jeffrey Dana Gillen still signed a warrant for Heather Hironimus' arrest, refusing requests from her lawyers to first consider a mental health exam of the boy and appointing an independent guardian to speak on the child's behalf in court.

"The child is scared to death of the procedure and doesn't want it," said attorney Thomas Hunker. "There have been no safeguards put in place to protect the child's psychological and emotional condition with regards to this surgery."

Attorneys for the child's father, Dennis Nebus of Boca Raton, requested the crisis shelter's name and location during a brief hearing Tuesday, so the mother could be served with a court order for Nebus to pick up his son. But Gillen said he would not order the disclosure of the shelter's name.

The mother and son "sought refuge" at the shelter on Feb. 23, when it was her regular time to have custody of the boy, Hunker said. Nebus then was attempting to make arrangements for a Broward doctor to remove the child's foreskin.

The warrant authorizes law enforcement to take Hironimus into custody, on the grounds that she failed to appear before the court Tuesday as ordered. Such warrants typically require apprehended individuals to be brought before a judge within 24 hours.

"She doesn't believe she should be incarcerated for protecting her child," Hunker said.

On Friday, Gillen declared the mom in contempt of court for violating an order enforcing a 2012 parenting plan, which makes the dad responsible for arranging the circumcision. The mom and dad did not marry either before or after the boy's birth on Oct. 31, 2010.

After Nebus testified Friday that he can't find his son, the judge ordered the mom to appear in his courtroom with the child by 2 p.m. Tuesday.

"I was hoping the mother was going to be here," Nebus' attorney May L. Cain said after learning Hironimus remained at the shelter.

"I was, too, obviously," Gillen replied.

The judge last week called it "reprehensible" for the mother to spirit away the boy.

"I will allow her to avoid incarceration or get out of jail if she signs the consent to the procedure," Gillen said Friday.

The judge found the mom had willfully violated the plan she signed when the boy was 1. The judge also said Hironimus had committed a "direct, contemptuous violation" of court orders by continuing to team with circumcision opposition groups — called "intactivists" — that have "plastered" the child's photos and name "all over the Internet."

After a state appellate court in December held up Gillen's earlier ruling enforcing the parenting plan, the judge instructed Hironimus and Nebus to "protect the child from any exploitation."

Gillen has ordered the media not to release the name or photo of the child, and the Sun Sentinel has filed a motion seeking to vacate the order. A hearing on the matter is scheduled before Gillen on Wednesday.

More than a dozen protestors stood outside the county courthouse in Delray Beach on Tuesday. Some carried signs reading, "His body his rights" and "circumcision is a sex crime."

"It's outrageous that this could actually be happening," said Jennifer Cote of Pembroke Pines, a mother of a 2-month-old son and a 4-year-old girl. "We think this is a choice [Hironimus' son] should make for himself."

Kristen Shockley, of Boynton Beach, one of Hironimus' longtime friends, said it's important to consider the boy is well "past the infancy stage." Shockley said her 9-month old and 4-year-old sons were not circumcised since there was no medical reason for it, nor any cosmetic or religious purpose.

Neither Nebus nor Hironimus is Jewish, but the dad testified last year he thinks circumcision is "just the normal thing to do" and he decided late in 2013 to press for it after noticing his son was urinating on his leg. The father says the boy has a condition called phimosis, which prevents retraction of the foreskin, but the mother has said there is no such diagnosis.

The American Academy of Pediatrics says the benefits of newborn male circumcision are lower risks of urinary tract infections; getting penile cancer; and acquiring HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.

Judge Gillen mentioned these benefits in court last week, and called the procedure "very, very safe."

Still, the most recent federal statistics indicate circumcision has been waning in popularity across the country.

For Jewish families concerned about following the ancient tradition of circumcisions, a group called Doctors Opposing Circumcision advocates an alternative ceremony called a Brit Shalom, "which does not cut the genitals or risk physical or psychological harm to the child."

In an emergency motion filed last week, Hunker wrote the boy "is aware of what is happening and is terrified by the procedure. He is also angry that the procedure is being forced upon him."

The attorney said the boy needs to be examined a by mental health expert so the court can "consider the child's emotions and feelings on the matter."

"This is not a situation where [the child] is a newborn; he is old enough to remember the procedure and what his body looked like before," Hunker wrote. "Removal of part of the most private part of his body could emotionally scar [the child] for the rest of his life."

Nebus has accused the mother of putting fear into the boy.

"My son has mentioned things to me that he's scared to have his penis cut off," he testified.

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