Should San Francisco Ban Circumcision?

6 years ago

A while back, I wrote a hot post -- "A Case Against Circumcision" -- about a super controversial issue which CNN reports is showing up in the limelight now that a group seeking to ban circumcision of any male younger than 18 in San Francisco has succeeded in getting their controversial measure on the November ballot.

Credit Image: Salim Virji on Flickr

If passed, it would be illegal for a parent to choose to have a boy circumcised, and if he wanted it done, he’d have to wait until he was 18 to make his own choice. Failing to follow the law 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 -- period.

I’m flatly anti-circumcision -- boys or girls. As I laid out in my other post, I don’t believe we should be imposing our own plastic surgery notions on young boys without their consent. Why? Here are some thoughts.

7 Reasons Not to Circumcise Your Baby

  1. Evidence that there are good medical reasons to do so are insufficient. Contrary to popular belief, circumcision does not make the penis cleaner -- it just crosses off one more area that needs attention in the shower. Although there is some evidence that circumcision may decrease the risk of certain STDs like HIV, HPV, and HSV, the American Academy of Pediatrics sums it up this way, "Existing scientific evidence demonstrates potential medical benefits of newborn male circumcision; however, these data are not sufficient to recommend routine neonatal circumcision."
  2. The surgery carries risks -- and yes, while I have never been personally responsible for pulling a Lorena Bobbitt on a poor, defenseless baby, I have seen little boys get the ends of their penises cut off as the result of circumcision. And remember, if you give birth at a hospital that has residents, it’s often the intern performing the circumcision!
  3. Many swear that having foreskin helps prevent premature ejaculation and can lead to longer lovemaking.
  4. The body was made with foreskin. Are we to assume it was an accident?
  5. Most countries do not circumcise their boys. Why should we?
  6. A person should have the right to choose whether they undergo a purely cosmetic surgery that cannot be undone.
  7. Circumcision HURTS! While some swear that babies cannot feel, I have watched them when I cut their little foreskins. And they definitely feel pain. Maybe they don’t remember it, but somewhere in their little budding psyches, they might. Do we really want a child’s first experience in life to be this pain?

Most importantly, I believe we should be raising our children to believe that, unless they were born with a birth defect, they do not need surgery to fix what ain’t broken. It horrifies me to hear about Moms giving their daughters Botox or teenagers getting nose jobs and plastic boobs or pinning back a child’s ears. What message are we giving our children if we do such things? Do we really want them to grow up believing that they’re not beautiful, perfect, and whole just the way God made them?

That’s why I wrote my book What’s Up Down There?. That’s why I’m helping empowering young girls to grow up with a positive body image as a spokesperson for UbyKotex. That’s why I started And that’s why I’m writing this post, because I want to encourage all people to heal, connect, thrive, and live comfortably in their skin.

If you look through the 200+ comments on "A Case Against Circumcision," you’ll read many stories of men who were circumcised against their will when they were babies who want their foreskins back. They feel violated, as if something that is their birthright to keep was unwittingly stolen from them, and they felt so appreciative that I wrote this article. The reaction of these men in the comments section of my post was so potent that it inspired CNN Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen to reach out to me and ask me to contact the men who commented on my post so she could interview them for this article.

So believe it or not, there are a whole bunch of men out there who call themselves “inactivists” and want their foreskin back. Your child could wind up being one of them.

But Should We Outlaw Circumcision?

Well, that’s a horse of a different color. That kind of law exists for female circumcision. Female genital mutilation (FGM), which is clearly a different procedure, is illegal in this country. And one of the reasons I stopped doing circumcisions in the first place as an OB/GYN physician is because I spent a year working with victims of FGM, and one of my jobs was to convince them to stop cutting their girls. They argued with me, saying they had to cut their girls because of religious beliefs and because they wanted them to "look pretty." When I tried to educate them about the dangers, the first argument those African women brought up when I asked them to stop butchering the vulvas of their little girls is that we Americans circumcise boys. Although I do, they didn't really see the difference, and I get their point. The arguments for why we do it are the same as theirs. In this country, if you perform FGM in the United States, it’s a felony, and many have been arrested for doing this underground.

Clearly, circumcising boys is a less damaging, less risky procedure. But it’s still unnecessary plastic surgery being inflicted upon a minor without his consent.

But Should It Be Illegal?

Honestly, I’m not sure. Let’s look at the issues.


I’m pro-choice when it comes to abortion -- and I even performed them for a while -- even though I don’t like the idea of killing a fetus. Why? Because I believe in a woman’s right to choose what’s right for her own body, and I believe the government has no business deciding whether she should or shouldn’t. So I'm all for choice. And I can see the argument that this for a parent to decide, not for the government to decide. I certainly don't want people doing black market circumcisions with rusty instruments, the way they did with abortions before Roe Vs. Wade.

Religious Freedom

But then there’s the issue of religious freedom, a freedom our constitution vehemently protects. Our rights to pursue our religious beliefs are protected in this country, but only when it doesn't hurt someone else. A Muslim has the right to believe what he believes, but if he uses his religious beliefs to inflict harm, he'll be prosecuted under our laws. So many Jews slammed me in my other circumcision post for violating their religious freedoms. But should Jews be allowed to alter a boy’s body by doing something purely cosmetic and potentially risky, just because the Bible tells them to? Well, the Bible also tells you to sacrifice animals, but that’s illegal. So I’m not sure that argument holds up, either.

Should The Government Protect Children?

I’d prefer to educate families so they choose to stop performing circumcisions rather than legislating it, just because things get all messy when the government gets involved -- but so far, few are listening to the arguments of doctors like me and men like those who commented on my blog post. Certainly, we've put laws into place to protect children. And when Child Protective Services got wind that Kerry Campbell, the Botox mom was injecting her 8-year-old with Botox, they swooped in and took her into protective custody. And public outcry clearly agreed that this kind of behavior is child abuse. But should it be legal to let a 10-year-old get a nose job or a 15-year-old get breast implants? What if parents want to pin a kid's ears back surgically so they don't stick out? Where do we draw the line? And when is a child old enough to choose for him or herself? Perhaps we do need government intervention in order to halt unnecessary and barbaric practices in order to protect our children from parents who don't realize the messages they're sending their children -- that you're not okay just the way you are.

I Guess I Have To Decide

I live in the San Francisco Bay area, so I guess I need to decide how I’ll vote before that time rolls around, but I’m inclined to vote in favor of banning circumcision, just to protect those little babies who aren’t old enough to make a choice.

I’m sure you’ll all have strong opinions about this issue, and I want to hear what you have to say, so go at it! Tell me what you think. Help me make my decision about how I’ll vote. I’m all ears ...


Lissa Rankin, MD: Founder of OwningPink.comPink Medicine Woman coach, motivational speaker, and author of What’s Up Down There? Questions You’d Only Ask Your Gynecologist If She Was Your Best Friend and Encaustic Art: The Complete Guide To Creating Fine Art With Wax.

Learn more about Lissa Rankin here. 

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