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Boy's circumcision spurs lengthy legal battle, protests

Published:Tuesday | January 20, 2015 | 1:00 AM

BOYNTON BEACH, Florida (AP):

An estranged Florida couple's fight over whether to circumcise their son has become a rallying cry for those who denounce the procedure as barbaric.

The dispute between Heather Hironimus, the mother opposing circumcision, and Dennis Nebus, the father favouring it, has sparked a prolonged court battle, protests and the rapt attention of a movement of self-proclaimed 'intactivists'.

Judges have ruled in favour of the father, meaning the surgery is likely to happen, but the possible closure of the legal chapter has done little to mute the case's most passionate followers.

Though many still choose to remove their sons' foreskins at the suggestion of a doctor, for religious or cultural reasons, or out of habit, opponents have been bolstered by the overall waning popularity of circumcision, and the fact this fight has gone on so long the boy at its centre is now four years old.

"I couldn't speak when I was cut, but I can speak now," said Thomas Frederiksen, a 39-year-old machinist who travelled from Orlando to protest, wearing a red beret and 'I Love My Foreskin' T-shirt and speaking breathlessly about the issue.

Volumes of court filings tell the story: Hironimus and Nebus had a six-month relationship that resulted in a pregnancy, the birth of a boy named Chase, and a fight over nearly everything since. Nebus sued to prove his paternity and to get partial custody of the boy and the couple whittled out a parenting plan outlining everything from his surname to his legal address, to whom he calls mommy or daddy and, notably, what becomes of his penis.

RESISTANCE BY MOTHER

In that document, the circumcision of the child was agreed to by both parents. When it came time to schedule the procedure, though, the mother resisted, having researched the subject further. The matter wound its way through circuit court, which ruled in Nebus' favour, then to the Fourth District Court of Appeal, which refused to overturn the lower court's ruling. Hironimus could ask for a rehearing in the appellate court, but has made no further legal filings.

"Just the normal thing to do," the father said of circumcision, according to the court files. "To me, it's not worth it to put my son's life at risk for a cosmetic procedure," the mother said.

The parents entered an agreement on December 24 to not talk to the press and to avoid any other campaigns or actions that might exploit the child. There is no indication in the court documents the circumcision is being done for religious reasons.

The attorney that had represented the mother, who lives in Boynton Beach, is no longer being retained and has not been replaced, the lawyer's office said. The attorney for the father, who lives in Boca Raton, did not respond to requests for comment.

Though circumcision rates have fallen in the US, a majority of boys still undergo the removal of their foreskin. A 2013 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found 58.3 per cent of newborn boys were circumcised in 2010, down from 64.5 per cent in 1979. (The data excluded babies who were circumcised after leaving the hospital - many Jewish boys have the procedure during a ceremony called a bris, eight days after birth.) Meantime, a bubbling anti-circumcision movement has grown.