Despite the threat of being jailed Tuesday, a West Boynton mother hid with her 4-year-old son in a domestic violence shelter, the latest twist in a widely reported court fight to stop the boy’s planned circumcision.
But Palm Beach County Circuit Judge Jeffrey Dana Gillen still signed a warrant for Heather Hironimus’ arrest, refusing requests from her lawyers to first consider a mental health exam of the boy and appointing an independent guardian to speak on the child’s behalf in court. […]
On Friday, Gillen declared the mom in contempt of court for violating an order enforcing a 2012 parenting plan, which makes the dad responsible for arranging the circumcision. The mom and dad did not marry either before or after the boy’s birth on Oct. 31, 2010.[…]
“I will allow her to avoid incarceration or get out of jail if she signs the consent to the procedure,” [Judge] Gillen said Friday.
The judge found the mom had willfully violated the plan she signed when the boy was 1. The judge also said Hironimus had committed a “direct, contemptuous violation” of court orders by continuing to team with circumcision opposition groups — called “intactivists” — that have “plastered” the child’s photos and name “all over the Internet.” […]
The father says the boy has a condition called phimosis, which prevents retraction of the foreskin, but the mother has said there is no such diagnosis.
The American Academy of Pediatrics says the benefits of newborn male circumcision are lower risks of urinary tract infections; getting penile cancer; and acquiring HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.
Judge Gillen mentioned these benefits in court last week, and called the procedure “very, very safe.”
My goodness – so much to unpack here.
1) In essence, what the court is doing is enforcing a shared child custody agreement. From the Judge’s perspective, ordering the mom to comply with an agreement to go along with the circumcision of her son is no different from ordering the mom to comply with an agreement to give up custody on alternate weekends. If someone continuously refuses to comply with a court-enforced agreement, being thrown in jail is a widely-accepted last-ditch method for courts to force compliance.
2) This story is news because it involves involuntary circumcision. But really, this sort of thing is bound to come up in a society in which involuntary circumcision of boys is a legal and normal thing. In other words, the problem isn’t this judge or this court case; it’s that circumcision of underage boys is considered normal parenting in our society.1
3) Nonetheless, I think Judge Gillen has made the wrong decision. A four year old is not a one year old, and forcing a four year old to have an unwanted circumcision is taking a big, and needless, chance of creating long-term trauma.2
4) Mary Elizabeth Williams, writing about this case in Salon several months ago, made a good point:
Ultimately, though, it seems pretty obvious that what we have here is a mother who feels strongly that her son should not be circumcised, and a father whose commitment to having his son undergo the procedure was so casual he put it off until the kid was almost four years old. Yes, a contract was signed. But were it a true priority the circumcision would have been done a long time ago. And at a certain point, it’s fair to reassess and understand that a preschooler is not a baby, and that compassionate parenting means erring on the side of being as minimally invasive as possible.
5) James Smith, in the comments at Reason, argues (I think persuasively, but of course I’m no lawyer) that this is technically not a matter of contract law, but of Family Court law. So if that sort of technicality interests you, go over to Reason and search for Smith’s comments.
6) The father’s argument that the circumcision is medically necessary doesn’t seem persuasive to me (there are alternative treatments for phimosis), and I suspect didn’t matter much to the Court. (That is, I think the Judge would have made the same decision, based on enforcing the parenting plan, regardless of the claim of medical necessity.)
I don’t like the judge ordering the parties not to speak about the case publicly, because that goes against free speech. (So good on the mother for refusing to comply with that order). There are cases where gag orders are necessary (for instance, in a case involving the identity of informants whose lives could be endangered), but I don’t see why this case is one. UPDATE: As Mythago points out in the comments, I misunderstood what was going on.
8) Some parents have protested Judge Gillen’s decision by posting photos of their small kids holding up protest signs: “The irony — of people arguing that boys shouldn’t be circumcised until they can consent yet using their own toddlers to make points in social media campaigns — was not lost on some commenters.” But I agree with Ophelia Benson, who says that the equivalence doesn’t hold water.
9) I’m skeptical that it will do any good, but there’s a petition to sign here.
- I say “of children” because I have no objection to a grown-up choosing to have a circumcision for themselves. [↩]
- Some anti-circumcision activists would argue that all circumcision is a kind of long-term trauma, but – even though I oppose child circumcision – I can’t say I find my own infant circumcision to have been lastingly traumatic. [↩]