Calif. Lawmakers Advance Law Preventing Circumcision Bans
A California Senate committee unanimously approved a bill Tuesday to block local jurisdictions from banning male circumcision, a debate that evolved from a divisive ballot measure in San Francisco that would have barred the practice for most boys under age 18.
The Senate Judiciary Committee voted 5-0 for the bill by two Democratic lawmakers that would declare that circumcision - surgically removing the foreskin that covers the tip of the penis - has health, cultural and other benefits, and that uniform statewide rules are needed to govern it and a parent’s authority over whether their children receive it.
"It’s a medical procedure, and it has value," said Assemblyman Mike Gatto, D-Los Angeles, co-author of AB768. Passing the bill, he told the committee, would prevent a statewide patchwork of laws governing circumcision.
Sen. Noreen Evans, the Santa Rosa Democrat who chairs the committee, said she struggled with the decision on whether to circumcise her son. There is a clear need for a statewide standard that would ensure other parents retain the right to make that choice, she said.
The legislation comes against a national backdrop of efforts to limit male circumcision, which critics say is an unnecessary surgery to a healthy and defenseless child that can cause long-lasting sexual and mental health problems.
Supporters of male circumcision include researchers who say it can reduce the risk of sexually transmitted diseases and cancer, and many Jews and Muslims, for whom the practice is an important religious ritual.
Local ballot measures on the subject interfere with the practice of medicine, said Ryan Spencer, a spokesman for the California Medical Association.
"The decision to perform male circumcision should be left up to the parents in consultation with their physician, wherever they reside," Spencer testified.
Brian Levitt, a San Francisco resident who was circumcised as a child, said the bill’s assertion that the practice is beneficial was biased and inaccurate.
"I stand before you as proof that the idea that circumcision definitely has positive bonding, health and sexual benefits is a lie," he testified.
Advocates have tried for years to advance circumcision bans at statehouses across the country with little success. In California, they turned their attention this year to local ballot measures.