INTACTIVIST OF THE MONTH: Tora Spigner

One of Intact America's greatest strengths is the diverse and supportive intactivist community. Our "Intactivist of the Month" series highlights some of the most ardent opponents of infant and childhood circumcision, whose tireless efforts will ensure a future where all babies are kept intact.

JANUARY 2017: Our Intactivist of the Month for January is Tora Spigner.

Tora Spigner has dedicated her entire career to caring for expectant mothers and ensuring the wellbeing of their babies.

Raised in Port Huron, Michigan, Tora studied medical technology as an undergraduate at Michigan State University. Later, while working on her Master's degree in Interdisciplinary Technology at Eastern Michigan University, she became interested in how medical technology has changed childbirth over the decades. In the process of writing an independent paper on that subject, Tora decided she wanted to work in birth.

Following a visit to her father in San Francisco in 1989, Tora decided to move west. She enrolled in nursing school at San Francisco State University, where she earned her RN and a Master's of Science in Nursing. Then, in 1996, she moved to Berkeley. After helping a friend to give birth, Tora launched an independent business as a doula "before it was a profession," she smiles. She still works independently as a doula, along with her job as a labor and delivery nurse at Alta Bates Summit Medical Center in Berkeley.

Tora's first awareness about circumcision came when her brother was born in 1971, and her mother "made sure he stayed intact. The men (and women) in my family are all intact," Tora says. "We feel very strongly that it is nobody's right to change another person's body."

Tora learned about the intactivist movement during her graduate research. She wrote to the Nurses at St. Vincent's Hospital in Santa Fe, NM, asking for information, and received a packet including bumper stickers and reading materials. She's had a "nocirc" license plate on her car since 2002, having been inspired by Marilyn Milos at a demonstration she attended (along with her children Christa and Evan — then two and six years old, respectively) before the California Medical Association.

For as long as she can remember, Tora has spoken her mind about protecting babies from this unnecessary and traumatic surgery. Upon reflection, Tora thinks her outrage used to make her less than optimally effective. "I kind of accosted people. I'd say, 'Why would you do this?'" she recalls.

In recent years, she has moderated her approach, though never her conviction. In the challenging environment of the hospital where she works, Tora tries hard to make sure parents know the truth about circumcision. During her years in obstetrics, she has seen many complications, including the amputation of a baby boy's glans penis and — on more than one occasion — "serious degloving" (removal of shaft skin) incidents. "A lot of people have no idea how invasive circumcision surgery is," she says. In educating parents of newborns, Tora points out the care instructions given prior to circumcision, saying, "Do you really want to do wound care, on top of having a newborn?" Many parents haven't thought of it that way, she says, and the realization that circumcision is a wound often leads them to keeping their sons intact.

Tora's experience with parents from various ethnic groups is consistent with research showing that African American parents circumcise their sons at higher rates than other groups. "Sometimes black patients are the hardest to convince," she laments. "It's the same with breastfeeding. "They are either adamantly for it or totally against it," she continues, remarking on the "tremendous amount of body-shaming" about both practices.

"I appreciate Intact America," Tora comments, because the organization "approaches circumcision as an American problem — a cultural problem. If we can change attitudes and beliefs," Tora says, "if we can reach people early, educate medical and nursing students, the practice will fall out of favor and the rate will drop precipitously."

"Tora inspires utter confidence — not just in her knowledge about birth and the protection of mothers and babies from harm, but in the straightforward manner in which she calls for non-interference with nature," says Georganne Chapin, executive director of Intact America. "At a time when too many who know that circumcising a baby is wrong still hesitate to come out publicly, Tora is unequivocal in her condemnation of the practice and utterly comfortable speaking out in any setting. She is a truly a role model for intactivism."

You can see and hear Tora in this 2009 video, made by James Loewen.

Visit our Intactivist of the Month Archive page to read about previous intactivists we've highlighted.