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Update: Judge orders SF circumcision ban off ballot

August 1st, 2011

A couple of months ago, Ari had posted about a San Francisco ballot initiative that would have banned male circumcision in that city.

Now, a Superior Court judge has ruled that the measure be removed from the ballot, saying that the state, not cities, has the right to regulate medical procedures.  She also found that ban would violate the free exercise of religion:

 A San Francisco County Superior Court judge ruled Thursday that a measure prohibiting male circumcision should be taken off the November ballot.

Judge Loretta M. Giorgi ordered San Francisco’s director of elections to strike the measure from the city’s ballot because she said that it is “expressly preempted” by the California Business and Professions Code.

Under that statute, only the state is allowed to regulate medical procedures, and “the evidence presented is overwhelmingly persuasive that circumcision is a widely practiced medical procedure,” the ruling said.

After a brief hearing, Giorgi also found that the proposed ban would violate citizens’ right to the free exercise of religion, said Deputy City Atty. Mollie Lee, because it targets Muslims and Jews, whose faiths call for circumcising males.

Proponents of the ban, which would have made it a misdemeanor to conduct a circumcision, argued that the procedure is “male genital mutilation.” They collected enough signatures to put the ban up for a vote.

But in June, a group of doctors, community groups and Muslim and Jewish families sued to get the measure off the ballot, arguing that it was anti-Semitic and violated state law.

“I am pleased with the court’s ruling to protect the integrity of the doctor-patient relationship and keep law enforcement out of these private decisions,” plaintiff Brian McBeth said in a written statement. McBeth is an assistant professor of emergency medicine at UC San Francisco.

Lee said the city “appreciates that the court gave the city clear guidance in ordering that the measure be taken off the ballot in its entirety” and recognized the concern over free expression of religious belief.

But Lloyd Schofield, a spokesman for the ban, said he was disappointed by Giorgi’s ruling. “This to us is an extraordinarily preemptive and expensive action before the citizens of San Francisco even got to vote.” An appeal is possible, he said.


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  1. Ari
    August 1st, 2011 at 15:29 | #1


  2. Heidi
    August 2nd, 2011 at 06:54 | #2

    Now, this is interesting. I don’t know how I personally feel about circumcision–I can see both sides of the debate. Thankfully, because I have only had daughters, I have never had to make the decision. Nevertheless, this site is always talking about how the rights of children trump the desires of adults. Doesn’t a child have a right to an intact body?

  3. Sean
    August 2nd, 2011 at 16:57 | #3

    Heidi, not if there is a religious reason to harm that child, evidently. But I agree with the court that the state should decide not the city. I wonder what anyone thinks of female, not male, genital mutilation, as is practiced in Africa.

  4. Leo
    August 2nd, 2011 at 19:31 | #4

    The site has also been about long-standing traditions and the question of who speaks for the children, the natural parents or the state. You may recall the case in Canada when the state-run hospital wanted to deny requested care to an infant whose parents wanted that care, and who eventually were able to find private care based on their wishes and provided by competent medical professionals.

    Obviously, the state should intervene in extreme cases. Male circumcision does not fall into the category of something extreme given its support in the medical profession and its long standing support in history and tradition.

    Parents routinely cut hair and clip fingernails (technically violating the claimed right to an intact body). They can’t randomly chop off an arm or a leg, a severe wounding with permanent impairment of function. Male circumcision is closer to the former than the latter.

  5. Heidi
    August 3rd, 2011 at 06:42 | #5

    Leo, I can absolutely understand that point of view–like I said, I haven’t made up my mind on the circumcision argument, mostly because I have never had to make the decision. I will say that cutting hair and clipping fingernails doesn’t usually involve pain. It just seems a little barbaric to me to slice off a piece of genitalia at birth, particularly because you have a defenseless baby that will not have the choice of whether or not he wants to remove that part of his body, but like I said, it is not my decision to make. I wouldn’t want the state to interfere in this type of decision, but only because of the long-standing religious significance of the practice for many. There are plenty of things that I don’t like in life or that I find immoral, but that I believe should be legal. This is one of those issues.

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