S.F. court victory doesnt put circumcision issue to rest yet

With last week’s court order to remove an anti-circumcision measure from the San Francisco ballot, Abby Michelson Porth feels she has won the battle, but not the war.

The associate director of the Jewish Community Relations Council said she was “very pleased” by San Francisco Superior Court Judge Loretta Giorgi’s ruling, adding that until anti-circumcision activists’ appeals are exhausted, she won’t let up on her campaign.

Porth has run point on the agency’s efforts to fight the initiative, which would have banned circumcisions for anyone under 18 in San Francisco. Last week’s court victory seemed to put the matter to rest.

“The judge was emphatic and explicit,” Porth said of the July 28 decision. “This measure should not appear on the ballot because it violates an existing state law that says municipal governments cannot restrict the healing arts professions.”

The ruling came in response to a lawsuit filed last month by JCRC and others, which argued that state law bars municipalities from banning legitimate medical practices. Giorgi issued a tentative ruling July 27, confirming it the following day despite arguments from proponents of the ban, including Lloyd Schofield, the anti-circumcision activist spearheading the initiative.

Michael Kinane, an attorney for the proponents, told the judge that circumcision was not a medical procedure, and said the ballot measure included an exception in cases where circumcision was needed for health reasons.

Giorgi was not convinced. In her ruling, she wrote: “The Court finds that the proposed ballot initiative is expressly pre-empted” by state law, adding, “The evidence presented is overwhelmingly persuasive that circumcision is a widely practiced medical procedure.”

Proponents of the ban have the option to appeal, though they have sent mixed signals on whether they will pursue that route. Schofield told Reuters he did not think his side had the resources to wage a new legal fight. Yet, according to Porth, he has been seeking political endorsements in San Francisco to renew support for the ban.

“The measure is now off the ballot,” Porth said. “However, we are still operating under the assumption that [Schofield] will appeal, and for that reason this campaign remains open. We are still fundraising to pay for this effort and we’re still engaged in the political organization necessary, on the chance he is successful getting it back on.”

Porth said the deadline for placing a measure on the Nov. 8 ballot is Aug. 18.

Even with the San Francisco court victory, legislation pending in the state Legislature and Congress, both guaranteeing permanent safe and legal access to circumcision, will apparently move forward.

Porth remains concerned that anti-circumcision activists will continue to seek other avenues to make the practice more difficult, if not illegal.

“We take seriously the proponents’ statements that they intend to do this elsewhere in the country,” Porth said. “The reason Medicaid no longer reimburses physicians [for circumcision] is because of these intactivists. They have slowly been chipping away at the public perception of circumcision.”

Should any appeals fail, Porth says her agency, the Jewish community and its supporters saved themselves a lot of money.

“A full-out campaign through November would cost half a  million dollars,” she said. “This victory was important so we can all now get back to more important things.”    

JTA contributed to this report

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Dan Pine

Dan Pine is J.'s news editor. He can be reached at dan@jweekly.com.