Circumcision ban ruled off ballot in California

August 1, 2011

The Male Genital Mutilation bill scheduled to appear on the November ballot to ban circumcision in San Francisco was ordered removed by a Superior Court judge on the grounds that state law already regulated medical practices and that such a measure would infringe on religious freedom.

The Male Genital Mutilation bill scheduled to appear on the November ballot to ban circumcisions in San Francisco was ordered removed by a Superior Court judge on the grounds that state law already regulated medical practices and that such a measure would infringe on religious freedom.

The proposal would have made circumcision of males younger than 18 years a misdemeanor punishable by a $1,000 fine and up to a year in jail, with no exemptions for religious reasons. San Francisco would have been the first city to hold a public vote on banning circumcision.

Jewish and Muslim groups had filed a lawsuit to prevent the San Francisco bill from appearing on the ballot, saying that banning circumcision would be a violation of their First Amendment rights. They also said that current state law already prevented local jurisdictions from restricting the practices of "healing arts professionals," including Jewish mohels who perform circumcisions.

A bill introduced by 2 California state legislators in response to the ballot measure in San Francisco seeks to prevent local governments from enacting laws regarding male circumcision and reserve such legislation for the state level.

California is 1 of 18 states that have ended Medicaid funding for circumcision, partly because of budgetary considerations. A study published in 2009 found that circumcision rates in states where the procedure is not covered by Medicaid are 24% lower than in other states (Leibowitz AA, et al. Am J Public Health. 2009;99[1]:138-145).

According to the CDC, male circumcision lowers the risk of HIV infection, sexually transmitted diseases, and urinary tract infection. In a 1999 policy statement, however, the American Academy of Pediatrics concluded that the medical benefits of the procedure were not sufficient to recommend its routine use, reaffirming this policy in 2005.