Mar 14, 2019
Georganne Chapin, MPhil, JD
March 14, 2019
The state of Iowa has two pending child protection bills before its legislature. While we share the legislators’ condemnation of the activities these bills seek to regulate, we also wish to point out the fact that both bills violate Iowa’s state Constitution.
The first bill, House File 299 (together with the related House Study Bill 115) forbids the practice of “female genital mutilation” or FGM – i.e., the culturally-based practice of pricking, incising, or cutting a minor girl’s genitals – and makes it a Class D felony. The legislation arose in response to the dismissal by a federal court in Michigan of a case against a physician prosecuted under a similar 1996 federal law (18 U.S. Code § 116, also known as the Federal Prohibition Against Female Genital Mutilation Act of 1996) for operating on the genitals of three young girls. In dismissing the case, the judge said that despite the heinous actions of the doctor (a woman from an Indian sect that practices female genital modification), the federal law under which she was charged was unconstitutional because the behavior it proscribed falls under the rubric of “local criminal activity,” which is properly regulated by states. It is safe to say that – from the perspective of public opinion – the proposed Iowa law and similar legislative activity taking place in other states are unlikely to meet with much pushback; Americans are rather unified in their revulsion toward “female genital mutilation,” sharing a presumption – even if they are not particularly well-informed about the issue – that this practice is indefensible from either a cultural or a medical standpoint.
The second bill in the Iowa child protection pipeline is more unusual in that it attempts to regulate an activity that is only now becoming a topic of public discussion. House File 576 seeks to prohibit genital modification surgery or “treatment or intervention on the [physical] sex characteristics” of “intersex” minors – defined as children “born with atypical physical sex characteristics including but not limited to chromosomes, genitals, or internal organs….” Because intersex surgery has been and remains the purview of the medical profession, the intersex bill contains extensive detail about the types of surgeries that have been traditionally performed upon children with anomalous genitalia in efforts to “normalize” the appearance of their sex organs toward either the male or female end of the spectrum of visible sex characteristics; it describes in similar detail measures that must be taken to prove medical necessity for such surgeries. The Iowa intersex bill is also noteworthy because it (a) represents only the second time a state has set out to regulate “intersex surgery (the first was California, earlier this year)” and (b) includes extensive language about the rights of intersex people to “participate in decisions about surgery and other medical treatments or interventions on their physical sex characteristics, and to guarantee [them] the rights to bodily integrity, autonomy, and self-determination.” Bravo!
So, what is wrong with these bills? Why are they unconstitutional?
Iowa’s Constitution contains a “laws uniform” clause (similar to an equal rights amendment) which states: “…the general assembly shall not grant to any citizen, or class of citizens, privileges or immunities, which, upon the same terms shall not equally belong to all citizens.” In other words, Iowa’s laws should never favor, protect, or privilege one group over another. While the two laws summarized above protect girls and intersex children from medically unnecessary surgery on their genitalia, whether carried out in a “cultural” or medical context, they deny these protections to boys.
Should not boys also be protected from the medically unnecessary surgical modification of their genitals? Are not boys entitled to the same rights to bodily integrity, autonomy, and self-determination as girls and intersex minors?
“Routine” infant male circumcision – like “female genital mutilation” – entails the removal of a normal, natural part of a boy’s genitals in the absence of any medical necessity. Sometimes – as in the case of female genital mutilation – male circumcision is performed for “cultural” reasons (I purposely draw no distinction between “culture” and “religion,” as there is simply no justification to favor the practices of groups who can point to a written text over those with a long oral tradition.) And sometimes – just as with intersex surgery – male circumcision is performed simply as a social or cosmetic procedure, justified as in the child’s best interest, helping him to “fit in,” or to “avoid problems in the future.”
“Intersex” is a condition estimated to characterize somewhere between two and three percent of the population.
Possession of a penile prepuce (male foreskin), on the other hand, characterizes nearly half of the population. Until the mid-19th century, surgical amputation of the foreskin was practiced only by Jewish and Muslim people, and by some tribal cultures. Victorian doctors introduced the practice in the United States and other Anglophone countries to stop boys from masturbating. By the mid-20th century, “routine” circumcision had become embedded in American medicine, and still today, the United States is the only non-Jewish, non-Muslim country in the world where doctors routinely remove baby boys’ foreskins (South Korea and the Philippines also have high circumcision rates because of the influence of U.S. military hospitals.) While in the United States the incidence of routine infant circumcision varies widely by region, Iowa’s rate remains among the highest in the nation, at well above 70 percent.
Just as intersex individuals are speaking out loudly against a medical establishment that overlooks individual autonomy in favor of social norms, American men of all ages are expressing indignation about having undergone the removal of their normal, functional foreskins when they were too young to either consent or resist.
Legislators from Iowa and every other state seeking to redress the ethically and medically unjustifiable practices of “normalizing” surgery performed on the genitalia of girls and intersex children need to take notice, to ensure that any new laws be consistent with the “equal protection” or “laws uniform” clauses of their constitutions, and to protect all children.
Feb 21, 2016
Last week, Intact America launched a petition to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). The petition demands that the AAP follow the recommendations from its own research about infant pain, and tell its doctors to END THE PAIN and stop circumcising baby boys. Our goal is 29,000 signatures by February 29. We need your help! Please sign this petition, and share it with your friends. Ask them to sign and share it, too!
Intact America insists that the American Academy of Pediatrics issue a new circumcision policy—one that honors and protects baby boys from harm.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recently said that babies shouldn’t be subjected to unnecessary pain. But the AAP continues to promote “routine” infant circumcision, a painful, medically unnecessary surgery that removes a normal part of a baby’s penis.
Last month, the AAP published research showing that common medical procedures carried out on newborn babies are very painful, and that the effects of the pain can last many years. The procedures mentioned included heel sticks, insertion of IV needles, and circumcision. The AAP report also found that commonly used pain relievers are neither effective nor safe.
Infant circumcision differs from the other procedures discussed in the report in that it is an invasive surgery that neither tests for nor treats any illness, and permanently removes a natural and valuable part of a boy’s sexual anatomy – the foreskin. The pain from circumcision is intense and continues for days or weeks after the surgery.
Circumcision, originally promoted in the 19th century as a way to prevent masturbation, has become part of American medical culture. Every year, a million baby boys in the United States are subjected to this surgery, although no medical association in the world recommends it.
Some of the falsehoods currently used to support circumcision include hygiene, disease prevention, and aesthetics.
The truth is:
- The intact penis is easily cleaned throughout a boy’s and man’s lifetime.
- Circumcision does NOT prevent sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV. European countries where fewer than ten percent of all men are circumcised have about the same STD rates as the United States, where circumcision is common.
- Any preference expressed by men or women for the circumcised penis is a result of cultural conditioning. Besides, as the U.S. circumcision rate declines, and the number of intact boys and men grow, the intact penis will no longer seem strange or unattractive.
Many Americans also believe that circumcision is “just a snip” – a minor, brief, and painless procedure that babies will not remember. This is FALSE, and the new AAP article on pain proves it.
Because circumcision is NOT medically necessary, and because the pain it causes is unmanageable and harmful over the long term, Intact America demands that the American Academy of Pediatrics tell its doctors to end the pain and stop circumcising baby boys.
Help us reach 29,000 signatures by February 29, 2016.
Please sign our petition TODAY.
Jul 25, 2015
JULY 2015: This July we honor David Grant, intactivist and volunteer extraordinaire, whose on-the-ground organizing made Intact America’s presence at the 2015 NYC Pride March a rousing success.
David was born in South Carolina in June 1969 – just weeks before the Stonewall Riot and one year before the first Gay Pride March. “I always felt great inspiration about being born in a year that shook the world,” he says, “and in times of self-doubt and fear, I use that to pull me out.”
“I knew as early as I have memories that I was gay, and though I had loving parents, I knew my answers lay elsewhere.” So at the age of 17, David jumped on a Trailways bus to New York City.
His intactivism started years later with a tiny mention of Intact America in Next magazine, a popular weekly that covers NYC gay nightlife. In a small column, it briefly mentioned actor Alan Cumming’s appearance at a local club, where he “suddenly” brought up the subject of foreskin and talked about his support for a group called Intact America.
“Alan talked about the way the foreskin enhances sexual pleasure, things I didn’t know,” says David. “I immediately got on my computer and found Intact America’s website. My life would never be the same. I refer to it as the deeply personal, ‘Killing Me Softly With His Song,’ effect. When I read about the harm from circumcision, it was my own story. All the complications… I knew them well because I lived them, and still do.”
From that time, David joined intactivist campaigns, demonstrations, and protests. “You name it, I do it. Online and on the street. I strike from all angles with my own money, my time and – believe me – my own blood, sweat, and tears.”
NYC Pride Parade 2015
“For the most part the gay community is very open to the intactivist message. What we have in common is questioning social norms and religious bigotry, and we fight for the same cause: Neither our parents, nor our culture, nor any religion owns our bodies, and only we can decide what to do with them. So, as they say, we are family. Also, gays have always been parents, but today it’s openly and legally accepted. Tragically, though, it’s still quite legal to cut children’s genitals if they are male. LGBT American parents, just like ’straight‘ American parents, are faced with the same question of keeping their boys whole or taking a knife to them.”
In 2006, a small group of Intactivists were approved to enter the New York City Gay Pride parade – among them, Julia and Emily Legutko, who later took up the Intact America banner. This year’s march, on the heels of the Supreme Court decision on same-sex marriage, was the largest ever. David’s organizing skills and passion were much in evidence, as this former kid from South Carolina directed Intact America’s demonstrators, float drivers, disc jockeys, parade assistants, demonstrators, and dancers through the complexities of an event attended by more than a million people. The resonance of Intact America’s message was abundantly clear, and the sparkle in David’s eyes – as he danced and twirled and strutted his banner – was priceless.
“When I came to New York, all my dreams were here, just waiting for me,” says David. “The greatest of them was Gregory, my boyfriend of 23 years, who supports my intactivism, and whose love is as constant as the North Star.”
“The moment I heard Alan Cumming’s words and discovered Intact America, there was a realization inside of me that would reshape my future. I knew I had been treated like cattle, put through a slaughter house, carved up and branded with a scar I will carry to my grave. But I will not go quietly to the grave with this indignation. I will do everything in my power to stop another child from being sent to the meat factory. And one day we will prevail.”
“The day David Grant discovered intactivism was the day our burden became easier to carry,” says Georganne Chapin, Intact America’s Executive Director. “With friends and supporters like David, we simply cannot lose.”
May 25, 2015
MAY 2015:Intactivist of the Month is Amy Wright Glenn—author, educator, doula, and mother. Glenn connects with her audiences through the natural and nurturing elements of motherhood, and exemplifies the qualities of compassion, caring, and communication. Glenn earned her MA in Religion and Education from Teachers College, Columbia University. She then taught for eleven years in the Religion and Philosophy Department at The Lawrenceville School in New Jersey, earning the Dunbar Abston Jr. Chair for Teaching Excellence. She is a Kripalu Yoga teacher, Birthing Mama® Prenatal Yoga and Wellness Teacher Trainer, (CD) DONA birth doula, hospital chaplain, and founder of the Institute for the Study of Birth, Breath, and Death.
Glenn is a frequent contributor to PhillyVoice and draws upon her skillset as an ethicist in composing articles relating to the harms of routine infant circumcision.
Her recent article on the Hironimus v. Nebus case is a must-read: Circumcise your 4-year-old or go to jail.
Commenting on the honor of being named Intactivist of the Month, Glenn said, “Intact America represents the leading edge of a powerful and important shift in consciousness with regard to the involuntary genital cutting of children in America. The tide is turning. While it still may take decades of work, one day the practice of forcibly cutting the genitals of American boys will be condemned in the same way the cutting of a girl’s labia and/or clitoris is condemned.”
We’d like to dedicate this newsletter to mothers and other inspiring women like Amy Wright Glenn for their work to educate parents on the risks of circumcision and the beauty of the natural human body.
To learn more about Amy Wright Glenn, visit Birth Breath and Death, facebook.com/AmyWrightGlenn, and facebook.com/birthbreathanddeath.
Georganne Chapin, Intact America’s Executive Director, said, “Amy Wright Glenn’s writing is polished and forthright, and leaves no room for ambiguity. She is as certain as can be that circumcising children is morally unacceptable. We are so grateful for her ability to deliver that message with such clarity.”
Mar 16, 2015
MARCH 2015: Just a few weeks ago, the intactivist movement lost one of our great champions, Elizabeth Noble. Throughout her career, Elizabeth focused on the physical and spiritual well-being of mothers and their infants; and she made waves when she featured a photograph of her naked, intact son on the cover of her book, The Joy of Being a Boy.
Elizabeth was born and raised in Australia, where she received degrees in physiotherapy, philosophy, and anthropology. She moved to the United States in 1973, and in 1977 she founded the Section on Women’s Health of the American Physical Therapy Association. From 1970 to 1990, she was founder and director of the Maternal and Child Health Center and Cambridge Physical Therapy in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Elizabeth was internationally celebrated for her focus on women’s health and the importance of education. She gave prenatal education classes, and taught infant massage to new mothers. Her friend Marilyn Milos, founder of the National Organization of Circumcision Information Resource Centers, recounts: “During one class, Elizabeth mentioned the difficulty circumcised babies have in their pelvic region because of the trauma held there. When she said the word ‘circumcision,’ one of the babies who had been quietly suckling pulled his head away from his mother’s breast and let out a high-pitched scream that went on for several minutes. Elizabeth, although amazed and startled by the baby’s reaction, knew he had been circumcised. A couple of years later, when she was teaching another class, she mentioned what had happened in that earlier class and, again, another baby reacted to the word circumcision in exactly the same way. Elizabeth immediately knew this baby was also circumcised.”
“Elizabeth always said what was on her mind and she didn’t hold back,” says Milos. “She always was outspoken about the harm of circumcision and was delighted to have The Joy of Being a Boy so welcomed and appreciated by the intactivist community.”
Intactivist photographer and videographer James Loewen interviewed Elizabeth in 2013. In this video, among other topics she discusses the controversy surrounding the publication of that book (pictured at right) and how surprised she remained that so many otherwise enlightened Americans manifested an aversion to the normal male body.
Elizabeth attended the Genital Autonomy Symposium in Boulder, Colorado last summer. She was clearly ailing, but able to partake in the events. You can see her below in thoughtful conversation with Ronald Goldman, author of Circumcision: The Hidden Trauma. “She was a pioneer,” says Georganne Chapin, executive director of Intact America. “She will be missed.”