San Francisco voters won't be able to vote on a proposed ban on circumcision until November. But anticircumcision activists hail the fact that the bill even exists on the ballot as a sign the so-called "intactivist" movement is picking up steam.
The MGM Bill, which stands for "male genital mutilation," calls for the circumcision of boys under the age of 18 to be deemed a misdemeanor, punishable by a maximum of one year in prison and a $1,000 fine. It was drafted by the MGM Bill group, an advocacy organization that has written similar legislation for 46 states.
In order to get the bill on the ballot in San Francisco, supporters had to gather more than 7,000 signatures.
"We believe that it is an utterly justifiable position to ask for a legal ban on the genital cutting of boys," said Georgeanne Chapin, executive director of Intact America, one of the largest intactivist groups in the U.S. The non-profit did not have a hand in pushing for the legislation, but Chapin said she applauds the measure, calling circumcision both medically unnecessary and cruel, regardless of religious customs.
"We don't give a religious or cultural exception to the genital cutting of girls," she said. "So we support a ban on genital cutting of any kind."
Marilyn Milos of the group NOCIRC added that her organization, while also not directly involved in drafting or supporting the legislation, also approved the ban.
"The good thing about this bill is that everybody is now talking about the issue, and it's time it's debated," she told HuffPost. "We need to really look at the issue through a human rights lens."
The MGM bill's author, Matthew Hess, has recently come under fire from the Anti-Defamation League and did not return calls for comment. But according to the group's website, the proposed legislation is modeled after California's Female Genital Mutilation Bill, introduced in the mid 1990s.
Indeed, anticircumcision activists often take pains to refer to circumcision as male genital mutilation. But some take issue with comparing female genital mutilation with male circumcision, which constitutes the removal of the foreskin.
"They are not analogous," said Fred Kogen, M.D., a board certified mohel based in California who says he has performed more then 7,000 circumcisions. "The circumcision of a female is a complete disfigurement; it reduces their sexual enjoyment to zero, or even less than zero."
Kogen said that when it comes to circumcision, he believes people would do well to adopt a balanced, rational perspective, noting that in addition to the religious reasons, circumcision has medical benefits. Various studies have suggested circumcisions can reduce the risks of both urinary tract infections and sexually transmitted diseases. (Intactivists discount these studies.)
"What it comes down to is that parents have to make the decision for their kids, like they do in all regards," Kogen said. "What I don't like is that they're involving the government in saying whether or not people can do this. If it's a misdemeanor, people who perform circumcisions can lose their license. How can you lose your license for something that the research has shown there are benefits to?"
The issue has religious implications, too. In the wake of a New York Times article about a similar effort to ban circumcisions in Santa Monica, a main proponent of the bill has backed off her efforts to gather signatures there. According to The Atlantic Wire, Jena Troutman, who runs the site Whole Baby Revolution, said her campaign had been "misrepresented" as an attack on religion. "It shouldn't have been about religion in the first place," she reportedly said.
San Francisco voters will have to grapple with such issues when they head to the polls this fall. In the meantime, they won't get a lot of guidance from medical organizations, which have remained relatively quiet on the issue. A spokesperson for the CDC said the group has "no position" on the matter.
Jeanne Conry, M.D., chair of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists California branch, said the group supports the American Academy of Pediatrics' position that currently, there isn't enough evidence to support routine neonatal circumcision. But she also indicated it was "reasonable" for parents to take cultural, religious and ethnic traditions as well as medical factors into play when deciding whether or not to circumcise.
"The decision for care," she said, "should be based on a determination between parent, child and healthcare provider, rather than the electorate."