Notes From Babel

A quiz for conservatives on San Francisco’s proposed ban on infant circumcision

with 13 comments

The San Francisco Examiner reports:

[C]ome November, it sounds like voters will have the opportunity to jump on the ban wagon by deciding whether to ban male circumcision.

San Francisco resident Lloyd Schofield said Thursday he is “on track” to have enough  signatures to place his proposed measure on the November ballot that would make it illegal to “circumcise, excise, cut or mutilate the foreskin, testicle or penis of another person who has not attained the age of 18.”

This presents a good exercise for social conservatives:  If you support morals legislation (e.g., suicide, euthanasia, drug use, animal cruelty, bestiality, prostitution, sodomy, homosexuality, polygamy, adult incest, public nudity, profanity, stem cell research, human cloning, and so on), what sorts of arguments might you employ to oppose the forthcoming San Francisco initiative to outlaw infant circumcision?  Arguments based on personal privacy might not work if you support prohibitions on prostitution and incest.  Arguments based on religious freedom might not work if you support prohibitions on polygamy and drug use (e.g., peyote).  Arguments based on parental rights might not work if you support bans on stem cell research and human cloning. 

So, how do you oppose the ballot initiative on infant circumcision? 


Written by Tim Kowal

February 25, 2011 at 2:13 am

13 Responses

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  1. When properly done, circumcising a boy does not harm him, and may in fact benefit him in certain instances (prevention of cancer, reduced risk of infections, lower STD risk, etc). Because it does not pose a reasonable risk of harm, and may benefit the boy, parents should be allowed to decide for themselves whether it is appropriate for their son.

    If we ban infant circumcision, are we also going to ban childhood ear piercing? What about pet neutering? If altering the body of those in our care is fundamentally wrong, then we shouldn’t be allowed to do either.

    By the way, it’s not as simple as completely disregarding a category of “reasons” because someone would use “personal privacy” or “religious freedom” as the reason behind their support of one issue but not another. You have to address why we should support religious freedom and also the boundaries of what is supportable. For example, most people would agree that parents should have broad say over how to raise their children because they are the ones who most intimately know their child, and in most cases, they are the ones who are the most motivated to do what is in the child’s best interest. But hopefully all of us would say that parental rights are not limitless. Physical abuse should never be tolerated, for example, no matter how vociferously the parent argues that excessive force is the only way to correct their child’s disobedience.

    Likewise, if it could be shown that there was an actual risk of harm by circumcising boys, parents should not be allowed to do it. Of course, proponents of a circumcision ban would argue that there is proof of harm. This is absolute BS. If circumcising was harmful, we Jews would have killed ourselves off long ago. Moreover, in Judaism, circumcision is the father’s responsibility. It is also one of the few tenents of our faith that even the most non-religious Jew is likely to follow. If non-religious Jewish men were, in large part, unhappy with their circumcisions, they wouldn’t circumcise their sons. They’ve shucked so many other religious practices, if this one was actually harmful, wouldn’t it be the first one they abandoned, not the last?!


    February 25, 2011 at 2:43 am

    • @Fern,

      You said, “When properly done, circumcising a boy does not harm him, and may in fact benefit him in certain instances (prevention of cancer, reduced risk of infections, lower STD risk, etc).”

      “Investigators found that circumcision removes about one-half of the erogenous tissue on the penile shaft.”
      Taylor, J. et al., “The Prepuce: Specialized Mucosa of the Penis and Its Loss to Circumcision,” BJU 77 (1996): 291–295.

      “prevention of cancer”, “Penile cancer is a rare
      cancer. It is more difficult to get statistics for rare cancers because they are based on small numbers of people. Remember that most cases of penile cancer are in men aged over 60 years old. It rarely affects men under 40.”

      Penile cancers is 3 times less likely then vulvar cancer.

      “lower STD risk” – I don’t know of a male neonate, infant, child having sex.

      “parents should be allowed to decide for themselves whether it is appropriate for their son.”

      Would you allow parent’s of girls to decide if removing their daughter’s clitoral hood (homologous to the male foreskin) was a cultural, traditional or religious benefit? I’m seriously curious. Take care.


      March 3, 2011 at 7:14 pm

    • “When properly done…” What do you mean, “properly”? Who defines the proper way to cut off part of a child’s genitals? There is no dotted line. (And no guarantee how it will be done, or how the operation on a baby will turn out on a man.)

      The frenulum is a membrane that connects the foreskin to the underside of the glans. It is richly innervated, being part of the ridged band of specialied nerves encircling the inside of the foreskin, that was described by Taylor in 1995. Many circumcised men describe the frenulum as their “G-spot”.

      Many doctors like to remove the frenulum, saying it “looks neater”. No research has been done on the sexual response of circumcised men with and without the frenulum.

      So tell me, Fern, does circumcision, properly done, include removal of the frenulum?

      “If circumcising was harmful, we Jews would have killed ourselves off long ago.”

      There is a difference between “harmful” and “annihilating”. Rabbis have debated how many brothers may die before one may be excused circumcision.

      Ear piercing? Reversible. Neutering? Pets are property, children are not. (It would be illegal to circumcise a pet.)

      Some Jewish men ARE unhappy at being circumcised, and are NOT circumcising their sons. How many do you need?


      March 4, 2011 at 4:29 am

  2. As an aside, it is interesting to note (at least to me) that while Judaism requires men to be circumcised, castration of both men and animals is forbidden because it frustrates one of the purposes for which that man or animal was created, (it is the male’s responsibility to “be fruitful and multiply”). The Torah is silent on the topic when it comes to females.


    February 25, 2011 at 2:50 am

    • Not surprising. Without foreskin, the penis is harder to abuse, and more likely to be used for reproduction. We could argue that circumcision is required by Natural Law as well.


      April 26, 2016 at 3:43 am

  3. This is a useful approach, since much of the response against the proposal I’ve seen has been from conservatives complaining about liberals and San Francisco. There’s been no substance about why the law should be defeated, in their opinion. I support the law, so I won’t help the opposition on that. But it would be interesting if we could get political discourse more intelligent than “libtards” or other such nonsense.

    On arguments based on religious freedom, it’s useful for morals legislation, but where most go wrong on circumcision, conservative or not, is in thinking the right to circumcision as a rite belongs to parents. It doesn’t, if religious freedom is to be the individual freedom it must be to have any meaning. Parents may raise their children in religion, but that right stops where the child’s body begins. It is not acceptable to physically harm children in the name of religion.


    You write: “When properly done, circumcising a boy does not harm him, …”

    That’s incorrect. Circumcision is surgery. It removes healthy, functioning tissue and nerves. It causes scarring. There are complication risks, and some experience as actual complications. Circumcision is objective harm.

    This is fact, not “BS”. The test you set up (i.e. “killed ourselves off long ago”) seems to be that anything less than death can’t be harm. That’s false. There are also deaths from both medical and ritual circumcision, but I don’t need those thankfully rare examples to prove my point. No surgery is harmless. Complication risks from circumcision include from complications short of death (e.g. bleeding, infection, skin bridges, partial amputation, complete amputation), with a much higher incidence rate. Again, the risk itself is also a form of harm, since we can’t know which child will suffer complications beyond the actual physical harms of circumcision. In proxy consent, surgery is only defensible if an objective need exists for the child.

    Individual rights, including freedom from unnecessary harm, are the core of this issue. Does the individual want his genitals altered? If he does, fine, let him make that choice when he is able. If he doesn’t, then letting his parents force it on him violates his rights. Since we can’t know in advance which an individual will prefer, the only acceptable solution is to leave his genitals intact until he can voice his preference. (Barring legitimate medical need.) Parental rights are not absolute, and don’t include the right to cause harm.


    February 26, 2011 at 7:22 am

  4. EVERY circumcision removes valuable sexually responsive tissue.

    NOT ONE national medical association of doctors on earth (not even Israel’s) endorses routine circumcision. As such it is cosmetic surgery. Holland’s very up-to-date policy says of circumcision: “KNMG is calling upon doctors to actively and insistently inform parents who are considering the procedure of the absence of medical benefits and the danger of complications.” They also say there is actually a good case to make it illegal.

    Nobody has the moral right to consent on behalf of another person to cosmetic amputations of healthy normal body parts.

    Including a religious exemption in the ban would never pass constitutional muster. You can’t FAIL to protect someone from harm just because of his parents’ faith. Just ask a JW, LDS, Christian Scientist, Snake Handler, or Muslim. We outlawed even a pin-poke to draw one ceremonial drop of blood from female genitals in 1996, with no religious exemption.

    Ron Low

    February 26, 2011 at 10:53 am

  5. Circumcision is medically unnecessary. Do you want this torture to happen to your children? : Doctors oppose circumcision: San Fran circumcision ban bill: Let america be intact:


    March 3, 2011 at 7:02 pm

  6. I do not see how anyone can oppose this ballot initiative when women such as Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Patricia Robinett, and Nawal El Saadawi call circumcision mutilation and call it a violation of human rights when done without medical justification such as treating such things like cancer, frostbite, gangrene of the foreskin and so forth. To be clear these women’s voices and opinions are unique because all three of them are survivors of genital mutilation.


    March 3, 2011 at 7:24 pm

  7. @Fern: “Because it does not pose a reasonable risk of harm”

    Three separate studies over a 20 year span found that 229 male babies died in each of the study periods from their circumcision procedure. Even one death is too much when the procedure fails to deliver the expected benefits.

    @Fern: “prevention of cancer”

    Penile cancer is one of the rarest of all cancers affecting men with an incidence of 1 in 109,000 (maximun) men. The death rate from the circumcision procedure is 1 in 7,000 procedures. This is killing with prevention by any definition. For each cancer (Non-fatal) prevented, 6 infants will die.


    Frank OHara

    March 4, 2011 at 6:16 pm

  8. Steering clear of the arguments made in the comments, which I feel unqualified to respond to, here is the answer to the original “quiz”:

    Presuming conservatives either favor circumcision itself or at least favor keeping it a legal option, their opposition ought to be political, at the ballot box. Assuming they lose politically, opposing it in the courts would compromise their ability to condemn liberal acitivists—the Prop 8 litigants, for example—for engaging in anti-democratic, abusive judicial activism.

    Tim Kowal

    March 13, 2011 at 7:31 pm

  9. […] What was perhaps merely a political expedient—i.e., emptying the moral content of certain topics to make them less politically unwieldy—has disrupted the integrity of our underlying political makeup.  We are, first and foremost, a virtuous people that recognizes certain universal moral precepts; that recognizes this is a world of values, and that laws are designed to assist that people navigate that world of values as that people embarks on its political enterprise together.  At one point in American political history, we led bifurcated lives in which, concerning matters of law, we were obligated to pretend at moral agnosticism; in other matters, conversely, we were obligated to ascertain good and evil, and to praise the former and denounce the latter.  But the triumph of secularism has been to take that narrow realm of legalistic agnosticism and turn it into the rule that governs all aspects of modern life.  The expression of moral values is resigned solely to the narrow domain of home life—and even there it’s not safe. […]

  10. Reblogged this on oogenhand.


    November 3, 2014 at 12:06 pm

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