The appalling spectacle of anti-circ activists obsessing over the penis of another person’s son

Jelly penis candy

A visitor from outer space might be forgiven for concluding that the most important part of the human body is the foreskin. It is, after all, the only part of the body that has multiple organizations devoted to its preservation in the natural state. The visitor might get the impression that the choice of circumcision is a fateful choice with profound implications for the rest of life. Therefore, it would probably come as a shock to our visitor to learn that circumcision is a religious, cosmetic and medical decision with essentially no impact beyond the benefit of reducing the risk of transmission of serious sexually transmitted diseases including AIDS.

That’s why it would be extraordinarily difficult to find a logical explanation for the anti-circ community’s involvement in a vicious divorce case, beyond a cynical attempt to hold a child hostage in an effort to drum up publicity for themselves.

As Mark Joseph Stern explains in Circumcision Armageddon:

Heather Hironimus and Dennis Nebus are fixated on their son’s foreskin. It is an obsession that has bound them together long beyond the end of their relationship. Nebus believes their 4 1/2-year-old son, Chase Ryan Nebus-Hironimus, should be circumcised for medical reasons. Hironimus believes circumcision is barbaric genital mutilation. Nebus has gone to court to get his son circumcised. Hironimus has gone to jail to prevent it. Their dispute is easily the weirdest, saddest, most disturbing battle yet in the war over circumcision.

It is profoundly disturbing on a number of different levels. First, that a mother, any mother would deprive a child of a needed medical procedure, using her child in a battle to wound a hated ex-spouse. Second, it is disturbing that an activist group would insert themselves into a bitter divorce. Third, it is disturbing that an anti-circumcision organization would acknowledge that it doesn’t merely oppose circumcision for religious or cosmetic reason, but it actually opposed circumcision for medical reasons.

Why is this an issue, let alone an issue that has drawn in outsiders:

…As part of their separation, both Hironimus and Nebus signed a formal “parenting plan” approved by a judge. One portion of this plan specified that Nebus would take Chase to be circumcised and cover the costs. At the time, Hironimus agreed to this stipulation.

Nebus put off the circumcision until December of 2013—when he saw Chase, then 3, urinating on his leg. A pediatrician suggested Chase’s foreskin was too tight and should be removed. Later, a urologist questioned that diagnosis, but agreed that Chase would benefit generally from a circumcision. When Nebus informed Hironimus of the impending procedure, however, Hironimus balked. Since signing the parenting plan two years earlier, Hironimus had become an intactivist—an anti-circumcision activist who believes the removal of a child’s foreskin constitutes child abuse and a human rights violation.

And what about those outsiders?

How did a local parenting dispute become the stuff of tabloid headlines? The answer lies in the tenacious community of intactivists who seized upon Hironimus’ plight as both a crusade and a publicity stunt. A group that calls itself Chase’s Guardians has sponsored a legal fund for Hironimus … They have quietly spread anti-circumcision literature throughout local libraries and strange, graphic, scaremongering memes across the Internet…

I reached out to the person who runs the Chase’s Guardians Facebook page, hoping to interview him for this story. He promptly sent back a link to a retort to my 2013 article on intactivists and wrote: “Sorry about your semi-functional penis remnant Marky.”

In other words, the Chase’s Guardians couldn’t care less about Chase and his medical issues. They are committed to what they believe to be the inherent sanctity of the intact penis no matter who is hurt in the process even if it is the owner of the foreskin in question. And therefore, they inserted themselves into a vicious parenting dispute, a dispute that cannot benefit Chase in any way.

The real issue here is two parents who despise each other using the body of their son to fight their battles. According to an AP story on the CBS News website:

Hironimus and her 4-year-old-son’s father, Dennis Nebus, have been warring for years over whether to have the boy’s foreskin removed. She initially agreed in a parenting agreement filed in court, then changed her mind, giving way to a long legal fight. Circuit and appellate judges have sided with the father.

With her legal options dwindling, Hironimus went missing in February, and ignored a judge’s order that she appear in court and give her consent for the surgery to be performed. A warrant was issued, but she wasn’t located until May 14 at a Broward County shelter where she was staying with her son.

Brought before Judge Jeffrey Gillen on Friday, Hironimus again declined to sign a consent form for the surgery, and she was advised she would remain jailed indefinitely. After the hearing recessed and she reconsidered, she reluctantly agreed to sign, sobbing as she put pen to paper.

That, of course, is not the end of it:

The woman’s mother, Mary Hironimus, said “intactivists” – anti-circumcision activists – planned to reach out to doctors around the country to urge them not to perform the circumcision.

Georganne Chapin, executive director of Intact America, which advocates against circumcision, said the images of a distraught Heather Hironimus signing the form to allow the surgery show how she was “bullied” into it and that she doesn’t truly give her consent.

“If anyone finds out the circumstances under which she signed, a doctor would be insane to carry out that surgery,” she said.

But the issue here is not, and has never been, parental consent. The issue is whether a circumcision has medical benefits for this specific child, benefits that outweigh the risk of performing the surgery on a child, risks that are greater than when he was a newborn. And that question can only be answered by medical professionals, not by a band of self-appointed foreskin fetishists whose cynicism is exceeded only by their self-absorption.