California Gov. Jerry Brown has signed a bill that would prevent local governments from banning male circumcision after a spirited attempt by anti-circumcision activists to ban the religious practice in San Francisco and Santa Monica.
The legislation is in response to a popular movement to ban circumcision by getting a proposal to stop the practice on the November 8 ballot. However, the new law that prohibits such a ban takes effect immediately and prevents governments at the local or county level from "restricting the practice of male circumcision" and "declares that the laws affecting male circumcision must have uniform application throughout the state," according to CNN.
The move to ban male circumcision was spearheaded by Matthew Hess, a San Diego-based anti-circumcision activist, or "inactivist," as he and his supporters call themselves. Hess also publishes an online comic book about circumcision which the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) criticized for containing anti-Semitic messages.
The comic, called "Foreskin Man," has a blonde-hair, blue-eyed character as the superhero who tries to stop a diabolical-looking villain named "The Monster Mohel," who goes around cutting the foreskins from 8 day-old babies. A "mohel" is a Jewish person trained to circumcise babies, according to Jewish tradition.
According to The Daily Caller, the ADL has strongly objected to what they considered were "grotesque anti-Semitic imagery and themes."
Hess, however, denied the accusations. "Foreskin Man is neither anti-Semitic nor anti-physician. But those who cut innocent children will be drawn like the villains that they are," he tweeted in June.
According to the New York Times, the ritual also has an emotional aspect: When Nazis tried to separate Jewish children from gentiles, they would check the foreskin.
"People are shocked that it has reached this level because there has never been this kind of a direct assault on a Jewish practice here," said Marc Stern, associate general counsel for the American Jewish Committee, an advocacy group. "This is something that American Jews have always taken for granted - that something that was so contested elsewhere but here, we're safe and we're secure."
However, other proponents of a ban, such as Jena Troutman, insist that it has nothing to do with religion or heritage, but everything to do with stopping the mutilation of babies.
Troutman, a mother of two from Santa Monica who collected the required 6,000 signatures to have the bill put on the November 2012 ballot, said her involvement in the proposal was simply about children's rights, "bodily integrity, and genital autonomy."
However, she ended up dropping her proposal after battling with religious groups became too much for her to handle.
"I don't have the time or the energy to argue with everybody, but you shouldn't go around cutting up your little babies," Troutman said. "Why don't people [expletive] get that? For me, this was never about religion. It was about protecting babies from their parents not knowing that circumcision was started in America to end masturbation," she told Fox News.
"I respect and appreciate the Jewish religion and people's delicate feelings about their religious customs," adding that she had originally wanted to allow a religious exemption for the proposed ban but that it would have been unconstitutional, Fox News reported.
Dr. David Baron, a family physician, certified mohel, and former chief of staff at Santa Monica-U.C.L.A., said that he viewed the effort to ban the procedure as "ridiculous and dishonest," according to the New York Times.
"To say it is mutilation is wrong from the get-go," Dr. Baron said. "It is a perfectly valid decision to say that it is not what you want for your child. Any doctor who says it is needed is not being honest, but to say that it needs to be banned is shocking."
Circumcision opponents disagree, pointing to cases of injury and death that were the result of the practice. Earlier this year, 2-year-old Jamaal Coleson, Jr. died after an allegedly botched circumcision, according to the New York Post.
There has also been numerous reports of babies contracting herpes during the practice of "metzitzah b'peh" – a common circumcision ritual in Hasidic Jewish circles that requires the mohel to suck the blood from the wound after the foreskin is cut off.
A study in the journal "Pediatrics" found that several babies had contracted herpes during the ritual, with at least one resulting in death. Other babies suffered brain damage. Herpes can cause potentially severe complications for infants because of their undeveloped immune systems, according to MSNBC.
In a study released last year, "Thymos: Journal of Boyhood Studies" estimated that more than 100 baby boys die from circumcision complications each year, including from anesthesia reaction, stroke, hemorrhage, and infection.
However, some believe that circumcision has health benefits. The World Health Organization said in 2007 that circumcision can help prevent HIV infection in men, according to "Scientific American."