​US mom faces prison sentence for blocking son’s circumcision

Reuters / Pierre Marsaut
A mother who has taken flight with her son to prevent his circumcision could face a prison sentence if she fails have the boy undergo the procedure, a judge ruled, in a case that has become a rallying cry for ‘intactivists.’

The case, which began as a domestic dispute between Heather Hironimus and her husband, Dennis Nebus, over whether or not to circumcise their four-year-old son, has caught the attention of circumcision opponents, who call themselves ‘intactivists,’ as the courts have intervened in the matter.

Palm Beach County Circuit Judge Jeffrey Gillen on Friday said Hironimus was in contempt for violating an order to appear in court Friday with her son. Gillen called it “reprehensible” that she has not allowed the father to see his son since February 20, AP reported.

The judge, meanwhile, is determined to ensure that the child undergoes the medical process to have his foreskin removed.

"I will allow her to avoid incarceration or get out of jail if she signs the consent to the procedure," Gillen told Hironimus’ attorney Thomas Hunker, who said he did not know the whereabouts of his client or her son.

In an interesting twist in the story, attorneys for the Sun Sentinel, a Florida newspaper covering the story, filed an emergency motion seeking to declare the order as unconstitutional. As the newspaper reported on its legal efforts, the court “denied the motion, ruling it did not fit the definition of an emergency because it didn't involve ‘matters of life and death or instances of irreparable harm.’”

Initially agreeing to a parental planning agreement with her husband to have their son circumcised, the mother later changed her mind on the issue, thus beginning a bitter court case nearly as old as the child.

The father said he considered circumcision when his son was 3, after noticing the child was urinating on his leg. A pediatrician had diagnosed the son as having phimosis, a condition that prevents retraction of the foreskin. However, in court testimony Friday, Nebus said the mother “frightened the boy” over the procedure.

"My son has mentioned things to me that he's scared to have his penis cut off," he said.

In May, Judge Gillen, who has requested the media not reveal the identity of the child involved in the case, ordered the mother to comply with the circumcision, while also warning her not to tell her son she was against the procedure.

The judge blamed the mother for having the child’s story "plastered all over the internet" in a "direct, contemptuous violation of this court's orders."

"This child has been placed in a light that provides much too much scrutiny for a little boy," Gillen said. "I blame no one but the mother for that."

Meanwhile, the court battle has attracted the attention of groups opposed to circumcision. The ‘intactivists’ held protests outside several Palm Beach County medical facilities on Friday, as well as in front of the county courthouse in Delray Beach.

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David Wilson, the founder of a group called Stop Infant Circumcision Society, called it “utter insanity for our courts to order the sexual mutilation of this child," the Sun Sentinel reported.

Although still common practice in the United States, circumcision rates have begun to decline as some medical studies indicate the procedure may carry some risks.

The Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, for example, published a study in January suggesting that “circumcised boys are more likely than intact boys to develop autism spectrum disorder (ASD) before the age of 10.” The research was conducted in Denmark among a group of children born between 1994 and 2003. Over 340,000 boys were followed up to the age of nine between 1994 and 2013 and almost 5,000 cases of ASD were discovered.

Professor Morten Frisch of the Statens Serum Institut, Copenhagen, who headed the research, said: “Our investigation was prompted by the combination of recent animal findings linking a single painful injury to lifelong deficits in stress response and a study showing a strong, positive correlation between a country’s neonatal male circumcision rate and its prevalence of ASD in boys.”

Meanwhile, the Centers for Disease Control points to other medical studies that show the procedure can lower a male's risk of sexually transmitted diseases, penile cancer and urinary tract infections.