Calif. Closer to Bringing Circumcision Under State Law

To circumcise or not to circumcise? That is a question best left to parents of newborn male babies, a California State Senate committee agreed yesterday, as lawmakers unanimously approved a bill that would prevent city and county governments from enacting bans on circumcisions.

The legislation, co-authored by Assembly members Mike Gatto, a Los Angeles Democrat, and Fiona Ma, a San Francisco Democrat, was prompted by a highly-contentious San Francisco ballot measure that would have outlawed male circumcisions. A local San Francisco judge removed the measure from the local ballot late last month, ruling that, under California law, only the state can regulate medical procedures.

The San Francisco ruling does not stop other cities and counties in California from considering circumcision bans of their own, which is why Assembly members Gatto and Ma introduced their bill. AB 768 is important, said Gatto, “if only to eliminate a patchwork of local laws that could result in mothers having to drive their newborn babies to another city to be circumcised.”

The California Medical Association agreed, arguing that local ordinances targeting circumcision would interfere with the practice of medicine. “The decision to perform male circumcision should be left up to parents in consultation with their physician, wherever they reside,” said Ryan Spencer, a CMA spokesman.

Supporters of the circumcision ban remain unpersuaded, said Lloyd Schofield, a San Francisco resident who led efforts to put the proposed ban before the city’s voters. “There’s been an international effort on this issue for decades,” he said.

Schofield’s campaign to ban circumcisions – a symbol of God’s covenant with Abraham, according to the Bible – ran afoul of the Anti-Defamation League, which accused supporters of the ban of using anti-Semitic caricatures to support their campaign.

The ADL was joined this past June by a local chapter of the Jewish Community Relations Council, a group of San Francisco Jewish and Muslin residents and doctors who perform circumcisions in the lawsuit that resulted in the court removing Schofield’s measure from the ballot.

AB 768 next goes to the Senate floor, where it is expected to be passed. What remains to be seen is whether the measure can muster a two-thirds majority in both chambers of the state legislature, which would allow it to take effect immediately.

The fact that San Francisco’s proposed ban on circumcision seemed to many to be a transparent assault upon religion – Jewish, Muslim and Christian – may actually prove a blessing to Assembly members Gatto and Ma.

Such referenda, said Gatto, “are so divisive, so unnecessarily mean-spirited” that he’s hopeful that the Legislature’s usually divided Democrats and Republican party members will provide the supermajority AB 768 needs.