San Francisco’s anti-circumcision vote cut from ballot

Judge: State law preempts measure

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A judge has snipped from San Francisco’s November ballot a proposal to ban circumcision, ruling Thursday that state law preempts the city from regulating medical professionals.

San Francisco Superior Court Judge Loretta Giorgi removed the measure from the ballot in her order, stating that “it serves no legitimate purpose to allow a measure whose invalidity can be determined as a matter of law to remain on the ballot after such a ruling has been made.”

“The evidence presented is overwhelmingly persuasive that circumcision is a widely practiced medical procedure,” said Judge Giorgi in her decision. “The [California state] statute speaks directly to the issue of local regulation of medical procedures and leaves no room for localities to regulate in this area.”

The proposal was slated to go before the voters after supporters gathered more than 12,000 signatures to place it on the ballot. Led by anti-circumcision activist Lloyd Schofield, proponents argued that male circumcision was cruel and should be treated no differently than female circumcision, which is illegal.

Mr. Schofield said Thursday that he would consider an appeal. “We will not stop until all men are protected from this damaging and harmful surgery,” he said.

The measure drew widespread opposition from religious groups, city officials and medical associations. The lawsuit argued that circumcision is a rite of the Jewish and Muslim religions, and that banning the practice amounts to a restriction on religious freedom.

The lawsuit was backed by the American Civil Liberties Union, the San Francisco Medical Society, and the San Francisco City Attorney’s office, which took the unusual step of filing a brief questioning the measure’s constitutionality.

“We’re very pleased,” said Abby Porth-Michelson, associate director of the Jewish Community Relations Council, which led the opposition. “We believe today’s ruling reflects the judge’s very careful review, and we appreciate her willingness to step in and put a stop to this measure.”

If approved by voters, the measure would have outlawed circumcision on males under 18 in San Francisco, with violations punishable by a $1,000 fine and up to a year in jail.

Ms. Porth-Michelson predicted the proposal would have been defeated at the ballot even if the judge had not intervened.

“It would have been overwhelmingly defeated,” she said. “San Francisco is a city that doesn’t stand for extremism, and the idea that they would put doctors in jail for performing a procedure with proven medical benefits is outrageous.”

The measure’s proponents argued that male circumcision has no health benefits and therefore cannot be considered a medical procedure under state law.

“Removing a healthy foreskin from a boy’s penis is no more a ‘medical’ procedure than cutting off a girl’s clitoral hood,” said anti-circumcision activist Matthew Hess. “Also, the measure didnt target a particular religion. It was aimed at all forced male circumcisions. We looking into our options for an appeal.”

Recent studies, however, have shown that circumcision can reduce the spread of HIV. A study by the University of Versailles in France released last week showed that a circumcision campaign in a South African township reduced HIV transmission by 76 percent.

Still, the procedure’s foes, who call themselves “intactivists,” say the practice should be limited to adult men who can give their legal consent.

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