Support Litigation to Expand Legal Protections for Children’s Bodily Integrity Regardless of Sex

Women’s Suffrage, Civil Rights, and Same-Sex Marriage were all litigated on a state-by-state basis before they became federally recognized rights for all Americans.

GALDEF, in cooperation with Clopper Law, P.C. and other attorneys, is actively researching states that would be ideal candidates to expand statutes protecting females from genital cutting to protecting all children from medically unnecessary genital surgeries based on state constitutional guarantees of equal protection.

If you want to fight gender inequality and expand legal protection of bodily integrity to all children in your state and you:

EITHER…

were circumcised as an infant/child without medical necessity, are age 25 or younger (born in 1999 or later), and identify as a biological/cisgender/endosex male, intersex person, or a transgender female;

OR…

are the Guardian or Guardian ad Litem of a minor child who is a biological/cisgender/endosex male, intersex person, or a transgender female, is currently under the age of 18 (born in 2006 or later) and who was circumcised as an infant/child without medical necessity. Examples of a Guardian/ad Litem could be an adoptive parent, grandparent, godparent, aunt/uncle, an adult sibling, or an attorney;

OR…

are parent(s) of a minor child who is a biological/cisgender/endosex male, intersex person, or a transgender female, is currently under the age of 18 (born in 2006 or later), and you learned more about circumcision and the value of the foreskin after granting consent for circumcision but would not have consented if a state law had been in effect recognizing the right of all children (not just biological females) to bodily integrity and protection from non-therapeutic genital surgery.

AND…

have already documented or are willing to document physical, sexual, emotional or psychological harm related to circumcision with a medical/mental health professional,

…please use the blue button below to submit your information to be considered in our plaintiff search.


Learn more about this historical legal challenge

Circumcision is not healthcare!
It’s a custom.
Help Support Equality!

Visit our Ways to Give to provide critical financial support needed to launch this historical legal challenge.

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Phase 1 Funding Goal: $30,000

f.a.q.

What is the basis for the constitutional challenge?

As early as 1995, some U.S. states enacted laws prohibiting female genital mutilation (FGM). These states also have constitutional guarantees of protection from discrimination or unequal treatment based on sex or gender.

The definition of FGM varies by state and includes infibulation (sewing the vagina partially closed, with or without clitoral excision), clitoral excision, partial or total excision of the labia, excision of the clitoral hood (“female foreskin”), which is the exact anatomical equivalent of the “male foreskin”.  Some states also prohibit nicking, pricking or scraping of the vulva, all of which are considerably less damaging than penile circumcision.

At a minimum, penile circumcision:

·      causes excruciating physical pain and trauma to newborns

·      places the child at immediate risk of hemorrhage, infection, surgical errors and even death

·      irreversibly excises up to 50% of the penile shaft skin

·      severs important blood vessels and destroys fine touch nerve receptors

·      destroys the unique mobile and lubricating functions of the foreskin

·      permanently exposes the sensitive glans (penile head) to the outer environment

·      causes the glans to keratinize, further reducing penile sensitivity

·      leaves a permanent scar on the penis

This is in addition to any other physical, sexual, emotional, psychological or self-esteem harm that the otherwise normal healthy child later becomes aware of after being subjected to this non-therapeutic non-consensual social custom.

If you were subjected to penile circumcision after your state enacted an anti-FGM statute, you may have standing to claim that the statute is unconstitutional and must be modified to comply with your state’s constitutional guarantees of equal protection.

In fact, in the first ever prosecution under the U.S. federal statute prohibiting FGM, the federal judge overseeing the case faulted the discriminatory nature of the statute by declaring:

“As laudable as the prohibition of a particular type of abuse of girls may be, it does not logically further the goal of protecting children on a nondiscriminatory basis.”

U.S. District Judge Bernard Friedman, United States v. Nagarwala, prosecution of a Muslim doctor in Michigan who performed minor nicking on the vulvas of her Muslim child-patients (2018)

Other highly respected constitutional law scholars, such as Laurence Tribe, have noted the need to pursue litigation to achieve gender equality.

“As someone whose life work has been wrapped up with matters of equal liberty and dignity without regard to sex, gender, gender identification, or sexual orientation, I believe the expansion of rights isn’t the exclusive province of the federal judiciary. Litigating issues like this under state constitutions, in state courts, is an option you should explore.”

Harvard Constitutional Law Professor Laurence H. Tribe, in email correspondence with GALDEF founder Tim Hammond regarding the constitutionality of laws protecting only females from non-therapeutic genital cutting (April 21, 2021)

Circumcision is not healthcare!  It’s a custom.

What is the goal of equal protection litigation efforts?

The goal of equal protection litigation efforts is to expand the statutes protecting children from genital mutilation to include all children, regardless of sex.

Why is it important to expand the statutes protecting children from genital mutilation irrespective of sex assigned at birth?

All males and females are born with a foreskin, which is a normal, healthy, erogenous, and highly functional part of human genitalia. There is overwhelming evidence that amputating the foreskin from infant boys results in incredible pain and trauma to the infant with a myriad of common physical complications, ranging from blood loss, infection and loss of the entire penis, to occasional death, all of which are wholly preventable by simply leaving the healthy genitals of children alone. In recent decades, men who were subjected as children to medically unnecessary circumcision have begun to document and speak out about the long-term adverse physical, sexual, emotional and psychological consequences of a surgery to which they did not (could not) consent. Non-therapeutic removal of a child’s foreskin—or any part of their genitals —violates that individual’s right over his or her body and is easily deferred to a later time to respect each person’s right to make such important decisions about their own body.

Many members of the public and leading ethicists, as well as constitutional law scholars like Harvard professor Laurence Tribe, believe that laws protecting the bodily integrity of only one sex are unconstitutional and unsustainable. In the 2018 prosecution of a Muslim doctor in Michigan who performed minor nicking on the vulva of her Muslim child-patients, even U.S. District Judge Bernard Friedman commented about the likely unconstitutional nature of the original 1996 Federal statute prohibiting only FGM:

                                      “As laudable as the prohibition of a particular type of abuse of girls may be,
                          it does not logically further the goal of protecting children on a nondiscriminatory basis.”


How much effort and resources are needed for such a case?

This legal project will be extremely costly. Legal expenses alone may total anywhere from $150,000 to $250,000. Please consider donating now to help get things going. Donations are tax deductible if made to GALDEF due to our non-profit status.

How can I help?

Please visit our Ways to Give page and consider a donation to help jump-start the project.

How can you help if you don’t have money at the moment? You can assist in sharing content related to the lawsuits by contacting local media outlets, journalists, interests groups, civil and human rights group, or podcasters who you believe are or should be supportive of the mission to protect all children from genital mutilation. Urge them to support GALDEF and the Kane Law Firm by either publishing an article on the litigation or interviewing Eric Clopper or Brad Kane.

Doesn’t this action detract from the genital cutting of girls and women?

No. The question of who does and does not deserve protection from non-therapeutic, non- consensual childhood genital cutting should not be conditioned upon culture, race, sex or gender identity. All children have a right to bodily integrity, without qualification. 

Worldwide however, roughly over 2 billion boys and men and 200 million girls and women have had their genitals cut when they were too young to consent. In the US, with little to no actual data, it can only be estimated that up to 500,000 girls and women are “at risk” for genital cutting for cultural reasons [source: Equality Now]. However, statistical data reveals that over 1.25 million boys have their genitals cut each year for social reasons. Based on current population statistics, 99.99% of girls in America are NOT at risk for genital mutilation, yet based on latest circumcision statistics, over 50% of boys born in America today are actually subjected to genital mutilation.

In the US, established laws offer legal redress for female genital cutting victims. Boys are at far more risk of genital cutting than girls but lack any legal protections. Without legal protection, the only option for legal redress is to work with adult litigants who have reached the age of majority and are within their statute of limitations to bring their own legal cases for harm inflicted due to lack of equal protection. A constitutionally sound and reasonable strategy for establishing universal rights to bodily integrity and genital autonomy for all children, not just those born female, is to focus on those who remain unprotected.

We are deeply indebted to feminist pioneers who promoted a core feminist concept that one should have the right to choose what’s done with or to one’s own body. This concept was/is behind anti-Female Genital Mutilation legislation and litigation. Unfortunately, for both cultural and political reasons, those not born female have been excluded from such progressive legislation.

Moreover, the U.S. movement against male circumcision was begun in the early 1980s by Rosemary Romberg and Marilyn Milos, R.N., and is currently led by Georganne Chapin, all feminist-minded mothers. FGM survivor Soraya Mire and anti-FGM author Hanny Lightfoot-Klein oppose genital cutting of boys. Feminist pioneers Germaine Greer and Gloria Steinem are also on record opposing newborn male circumcision [quotes are in the FAQ Isn’t the equal protection lawsuit anti feminist?].

Many compassionate women oppose male genital mutilation, but today’s feminist organizations – who claim to care about gender equality – lack such empathy and see no political or social value in working to end the pain and suffering of infants and adults born with a penis.

We have now reached a point where such unequal protection can no longer be sustained; ethically, morally or constitutionally. Asserting that those born with a penis have the same legal right to and protection of their bodily integrity as those born with a vulva does not in any way diminish or threaten the rights of girls and women. 

When we ask men to be more respectful of women and their bodily autonomy, we believe this message will resonate more strongly in a boy who had his own rights to bodily autonomy respected. Human rights should not be a zero-sum-game. We ally ourselves with feminists who recognize that human rights are indivisible and that we all benefit when everyone’s human rights are protected.

GALDEF invites all equality-minded people to stand with us in this legal effort.

Isn’t the equal protection lawsuit anti-feminist?

Not at all! Genital mutilation is genderless. Different bodies, same rights. Protecting only one class of children, to the exclusion of others based solely on their sex, promotes gender inequality. The belief that men are already privileged is no excuse for privileging the bodily integrity of girls over the bodily integrity of innocent newborn males.

The original goal of feminism was to achieve equality between the sexes. Many circumcised women and prominent feminist allies acknowledge the common ground shared between female and male genital cutting customs and have spoken in support of ending both female and male circumcision. 

Dr. Natalia Kanem. Executive Director/United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) keynote onBodily Autonomy – a fundamental right” during 66th session of the Commission on the Status of Women. 16 March 2022:

“Bodily autonomy means my body is for me; my body is my own. It’s about power, and it’s about agency. It’s about choice, and it’s about dignity. Bodily autonomy is the foundation for gender equality, and above all, it’s a fundamental right.”

Shamis Dirir. Coordinator/London Black Women’s Health Action Project, interviewed in NOHARMM Health & Human Rights Advocate/July, 1997 ( full interview):

“…(B)oth male and female circumcisions raise the same human rights questions. Our mutual fight is against ignorance. People like us, those who have the pain, are the best fighters, because we know the pain of circumcision. What happened to you, you can’t change it, but you can help to stop it from happening to other children.” 

Germaine Greer. Excerpt from “The Whole Woman” New York: A.A. Knopf, 1999; p. 102:

“Looked at in its full context the criminalization of FGM can be seen to be what African nationalists since Jomo Kenyatta have been calling it, an attack on cultural identity. Any suggestion that male genital mutilation should be outlawed would be understood to be a frontal attack on the cultural identity of Jews and Muslims. Notwithstanding, the opinion that male circumcision might be bad for babies, bad for sex and bad for men is steadily gaining ground. No UN agency has uttered a protocol condemning the widespread practice of male genital mutilation, which will not be challenged until doctors start to be sued in large numbers by men they mutilated as infants. Silence on the question of male circumcision is evidence of the political power both of the communities where a circumcised penis is considered an essential identifying mark and of the practitioners who continue to do it for no good reason. Silence about male mutilation in our own countries combines nicely with noisiness on female mutilation in other countries to reinforce our notions of cultural superiority.” 

Fran Hosken. Founder/Women’s International Network, quoted in Circumcision: Medical or Human Rights Issue? in Journal of Nurse-Midwifery, 37 (March/April 1992) pp. 87S-96S:

“Human rights are indivisible, they apply to every society and culture and every continent. We cannot differentiate between black and white, rich and poor, or between male and female, if the concept of human rights is to mean anything at all.”

Hanny Lightfoot-Klein. Author, Prisoners of Ritual: An Odyssey into Female Genital Circumcision in Africa on p.193 of her book):

“The reasons given for female circumcision in Africa and for routine male circumcision in the U.S. are essentially the same. Both falsely tout the positive health benefits of the procedures. Both promise cleanliness and the absence of “bad” genital odors, as well as greater attractiveness and acceptability of the sex organs. The affected individuals in both cultures have come to view these procedures as something that was done for them and not to them. …Childhood genital mutilations are anachronistic rituals inflicted on the helpless bodies of non-consenting children of both sexes.”

Soraya Mire. Somali filmmaker/Fire Eyes, in her endorsement of the video Whose Body, Whose Rights?:

“The painful cries of little boys being circumcised remind me of my own painful experience of female genital mutilation. It is the norm in my culture to mutilate girls, as it is in the U.S. for boys. It really terrifies me to know this. Hopefully this film will educate Americans about the harmful effects of male genital mutilation.”

Gloria Steinem. Introductory remarks to panel discussion of FGM, part of the “About Women” series at the 92nd Street Young Women & Men’s Hebrew Association, New York City, 6 October 1997:

“I would like to remind us that we all share patriarchy, which is the pillar of almost every current political system, capitalist or socialist. And it has a rock bottom requirement, the control of women’s bodies as the most basic means of production, the means of reproduction. These patriarchal controls limit men’s sexuality too, but to a much, much lesser degree. That’s why men are asked symbolically to submit the sexual part of themselves and their sons to patriarchal authority, which seems to be the origin of male circumcision, a practice that, even as advocates admit, is medically unnecessary 90% of the time. Speaking for myself, I stand with many brothers in eliminating that practice too.

Yes, there is a difference in degree that we experience in our different patriarchal cultures, and also in suffering, but not in the kind of social control and not in its purpose. …There is even a similar religious justification for this control in all of our countries. …Let us together see what we can do to preserve the wholeness of our bodies, and our minds, and our emotions.”

Nahid Toubia, M.D. Sudanese physician, in FGM and Responsibility of Reproductive Health Professionals – Int’l Journal Gynecology & Obstetrics, 46 (1994) pp. 127-135:

“The unnecessary removal of a functioning body organ in the name of tradition, custom or any other non-disease related cause should never be acceptable to the health profession. All childhood circumcisions are violations of human rights and a breach of the fundamental code of medical ethics. It is the moral duty of educated professionals to protect the health and rights of those with little or no social power to protect themselves.” Additional Toubia excerpts relevant to male genital mutilation. 

Alice Walker. Author, Possessing the Secret of Joy; Filmmaker, Warrior Marks) on “Talk of the Nation” National Public Radio, 11/9/93:

“I think it (male circumcision) is a mutilation. In working with FGM we often find that the battle is such an uphill one that we hope that the men who are working on this issue of male circumcision will carry that.” And later in the interview: “In all of it we have to try to think about what is being done from the point of view of the person to whom it is happening, namely the children.”

Fuambai Sia Ahmadu. National Sowie Councils/Sierra Leone. Female Circumcision Q&A from website:

“Shouldn’t girls consent to being circumcised? In my view, when the United Nations can answer this question for boys, – or as Intactivists (anti-male circumcision activists) would insist – when the nations of the world end circumcision of boys under the age of 18, then this question would not even need to be asked.”

Congresswoman Pat Schroeder. Democrat/Colorado Congressional District 1; introduced the 1993 bill to prohibit FGM that became law in 1996:

In 1994, Ms. Schroeder received a letter from a voter asking Ms. Schroeder about male genital mutilation (MGM). In her June 23, 1994 response, Schroeder uses the term “MGM” three times, acknowledging that it is no longer considered medically necessary and cites the need for “grassroots work in your local area…to raise people’s awareness of the problems associated with MGM.” Drawing parallels to the fight against FGM, Schroeder noted that “MGM will require similar efforts…to create the critical mass necessary to legislate against it.” 


Isn’t FGM more harmful than male genital cutting?

FGM involves a wide range of types from serious to minor. Some countries and U.S. states ban the mildest types of FGM, like nicking, pricking or scraping of the vulva. These types result in no tissue loss, no differences in physical appearance and no functional losses. The typical male circumcision, however, removes from one-third to one-half of the penile skin system, creating a visible difference in appearance, leaving significant scarring and destroying several important genital functions that include protection of the penile glans (head), lubrication, and the sensual gliding mechanism of the densely nerve-laden penile foreskin.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) acknowledged in its circumcision policies from 1989 to its latest (and now expired) 2012 policy statement that “The exact incidence of postoperative complications is unknown” and “The true incidence of complications after newborn circumcision is unknown.” These admissions undermine the AAP’s conclusion that “health benefits of newborn male circumcision outweigh the risks.” Without knowing the extent of complications and harms – immediate, short-term and long-term – it is intentionally fraudulent to promote the idea that circumcision benefits outweigh risks.

Moreover, the U.S. medical community has ignored the plight of circumcision sufferers, despite the fact that growing numbers of men have been documenting long-term adverse consequences from circumcision since the 1990s. Respected medical and academic journals have published reports that include physical, sexual, emotional and psychological harm, as well as negative effects upon self-esteem and overall sexual health. [Visit our Resources for Attorneys page as well as the Global Survey of Circumcision Harm for a more detailed understanding of these harms.] Fortunately, new generations of researchers are starting to investigate these harms, lending further support to calls for equal protection of boys from genital cutting customs.

Why don’t you leave the anti-FGM law alone and just pursue a separate law against male genital cutting?

Establishing separate legislative initiatives based on a child’s sex at birth is chaotic, redundant, and an affront to constitutional law and human rights. An equal protection challenge will improve a defective law that is inherently discriminatory.

Past legislative efforts in several states to simply regulate (not even prohibit) male circumcision have been unsuccessful. In part, this is due to the fact that most of those who hold political power in the U.S. are either men who have been cut at birth or women who had their sons cut, both of whom are in denial about the harm. Other obstacles include powerful medical organizations whose members financially profit from the custom, as well as a general fear of offending religious groups, even though “religious freedom” concerns were ignored when outlawing FGM.

The most comprehensive and effective solution to childhood genital cutting is to expand existing laws to afford gender neutral and equal protection for all children.

Many opponents of FGM are coming to realize that FGM will never be fully eradicated until nations and societies take a stand against ALL forms of involuntary childhood genital cutting, regardless of sex or degree of harm. According to human rights campaigner Fuambai Sia Ahmadu, the matter of female circumcision can never be resolved in isolation from male circumcision because the central question revolves around the child’s lack of consent:

“Shouldn’t girls consent to being circumcised? In my view, when the United Nations can answer this question for boys or – as Intactivists (anti-male circumcision activists) would insist – when the nations of the world end circumcision of boys under the age of 18, then this question would not even need to be asked.” [ source]

In other words, genital cutting of girls will only end when the world moves to end genital cutting of boys.

Unlike FGM, doesn’t male circumcision improve hygiene and have medical benefits?

No! Cutting off healthy body parts to improve hygiene or prevent disease, especially from children who can’t consent, is neither medically necessary nor ethical. The excuse of improved hygiene or medical benefit can be (and in some cultures is) used to justify removing the “extra skin” of the female labia, a form of FGM. The only solution that respects both medical ethics and human rights is to teach our children proper genital care, along with age-appropriate safer sex instruction and inoculation against sexually transmitted infections like HPV and HIV.

Isn’t circumcision about healthcare?

No! Circumcision is not healthcare! It’s a custom. Since the mid-1970s the American Academy of Pediatrics has issued numerous policy statements on newborn circumcision. Each time, they recognized that the parental decision to circumcise is primarily based on emotional fears and cultural reasons involving family tradition, social conformity, aesthetics, cultural identity or religion (the same reasons why many parents choose to have their daughters circumcised).

In 2024 New Hampshire state legislator Ellen Read, explained in this 3-minute address to her fellow legislators, the common ground with female genital mutilation, false health rationale surrounding male genital mutilation (MGM), and the inappropriate use of Medicaid funding to pay for MGM: “Circumcision is an issue of right and wrong and how we treat newborn baby boys.”

Is circumcision about parental rights or religious freedom?

No. Parents are free to make religious martyrs of themselves, but not their children. The American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Bioethics (1988 and 1997) acknowledged that “Constitutional guarantees of freedom of religion do not permit children to be harmed through religious practices, nor do they allow religion to be a valid legal defense when an individual harms or neglects a child.” Under state and Federal laws, the religious beliefs of parents are not an acceptable excuse for imposing genital cutting on their daughters.

In the past, parents who believed they were acting in the best interests of a developmentally challenged child could authorize that the child be sterilized and many doctors performed these medically unnecessary surgeries. This is no longer legal. The American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Bioethics (1995) acknowledged that “Such providers have legal and ethical duties to their child patients to render competent medical care based on what the patient needs, not what someone else expresses.” They also stated “The pediatrician’s responsibilities to his or her patient exist independent of parental desires or proxy consent.”

Don’t children have the same rights as adults?

Yes. Rights that children possess but are not yet capable of defending are called “rights in trust.” Bodily integrity is one such right. Parents have a responsibility to safeguard those rights from being violated. Due to a child’s vulnerable age, they need added legal protection from those who would violate those rights.

Is male circumcision like a vaccination?

No. Inoculation (vaccination) against communicable diseases is globally accepted and administered without regard to the child’s sex. It introduces minute quantities of substances that stimulate the body’s natural immune system and are proven to prevent disease. It does not involve permanent tissue loss, alter bodily integrity, or impair physical or sexual function. Circumcision, on the other hand, primarily singles out one sex (males), and involves the permanent surgical removal of healthy and uniquely erogenous and protective tissue. Newborn circumcision has never been universally accepted by the global medical community. Most pediatric medical associations around the world discourage infant circumcision as an unethical abuse of medicine that violates children’s rights.

Isn’t circumcision like the abortion issue, controversial and insolvable?

Yes and No.

NO

– Prior to the Supreme Court overturning Roe v Wade, abortion was a legally protected right enjoyed by women for over 50 years (since 1973). Newborn circumcision has always been a controversial social custom and medically questionable practice that has never been legally protected.

-With abortion, the fetus does not grow up to endure lifelong physical, sexual, emotional or psychological consequences as do many circumcision sufferers.

– The unborn fetus is not legally recognized as a separate person with human rights until after it is born and outside the womb. Survivors of circumcision are individuals who, from the moment of birth, are endowed with fundamental human and legal rights, even though they are not yet capable of exercising them.

– Many times abortions must be performed to save the life of another or to end the life of a nonviable fetus. Circumcision of a normal healthy newborn is never required to save the child’s life.

YES

– Both abortion and circumcision are fundamentally about choice and exercising the ability to decide what one does with, or what’s done to, one’s body, free from restrictions of their choices placed upon them by others.


Wouldn’t a legal victory drive circumcision underground?

No. When the Federal government and various states began passing legislation against female genital cutting (FGC), it did not drive that practice underground. As with many laws regulating harmful behavior against children (e.g., corporal punishment), most citizens will respect the law.

A legal victory may also permit penile cutting victims to seek civil compensation for their injuries, a feature of the 2023 Washington state law prohibiting medical personnel from participating in non-therapeutic FGC. Physicians who disregard such laws risk not only forfeiting their medical license but also having to pay damages many years later when the child reaches the legal age of majority and is able to bring litigation on their own, usually age 18 in most states.

Legal recognition of the right of children born with a penis to have their bodily integrity protected and to preserve their eventual bodily autonomy as an adult will help to remove a difficult and totally unnecessary decision from the minds of most parents and doctors.

Even if a legal victory were to hypothetically cause a small number of parents and doctors to participate in “underground” circumcisions, these would be offset by a significant reduction in the absolute number of children harmed by circumcision (currently about 1.25 million male newborns each year in the U.S.), as well as the adverse impacts on individual sexual health and emotional well-being later in life. More children will be protected than harmed by such a legal victory.