The Florida government is once again trespassing into territory that should more rightly be an exclusive family matter: the proposed genital mutilation of a 4½-year-old boy—more popularly known as circumcision. Admittedly, the facts of the case are complicated, but they are more about the rights and prerogatives of the adults involved (that is, the parents, judge and police), than the rights of the child, which appear to be mostly ignored.
The origins of this potential crime against the child lie in a parenting agreement signed by the mother, Heather Hironimus, 31, and the boy’s father, Dennis Nebus, at the time of the boy’s birth. The parents had a six-month relationship but were never married. They signed an agreement on shared parenting, which included a clause stating that the father would schedule and pay for any circumcision procedure.
Nebus waited to exercise the circumcision option until the boy was three years old. In the intervening time there were two important developments. The first was Hironimus had learned more about the consequences of circumcision, including risks of complications from either the procedure or the anesthetics involved. Like an ever-growing number of parents, she came to understand that the supposed health benefits to circumcision are spurious and do not justify the risks and the loss of bodily integrity. The second was that the boy, now 4½, had grown old enough to have an opinion as to what should happen to his own penis and decided he did not want bits of it cut off by a doctor.
The father has called circumcision “just the normal thing to do.” Whatever.
Nonetheless, in 2014, Florida judge Jeffrey Dana Gillen of the 15th judicial district in Palm Beach County ruled that in signing the original parenting agreement, Hironimus had signed away any right to change her mind at any time, and lost the power to object to the permanent surgical mutilation of her son. In mid-February, since their last scheduled doctor’s visit, Hironimus and the boy went missing for three months, during which they were in hiding at a domestic violence refuge.
Nebus testified at a hearing in March that he visited the home of the mother to take the boy for his prearranged visiting time and found no one home. The car was also gone, and when he tried calling Hironimus, he said the phone was turned off. Forgive me for expressing an opinion, but this guy looks like someone who thinks with his dick, and he must have suffered an accidental lobotomy while he was being circumcised as an infant.
What man with all his marbles would wait until his son was three to have the boy strapped down on his back, anesthetized, irreversibly mutilated, then sutured? What kind of father but an obstinate boor would risk his son’s lifelong enmity and approbation for insisting on such a procedure? What kind of egomaniac would press for this over the vehement objections of the mother, knowing full well that circumcision of a 4-year-old requires general anesthetic, a long, painful period of healing, and the risk of medical complications?
Gillen also found Hironimus in contempt of court for allowing the use of the boy’s likeness on the Internet by anti-circumcision activists (who like to call themselves “intactivists”), and said that Hironimus is responsible for Nebus’ attorney fees. Gillen reserved ruling on how much those fees are. Gillen also ordered Hironimus to appear in court and to bring the child with her or face contempt-of-court charges. When Hironimus and her child remained in hiding, Gillen ordered a warrant for her arrest.
In April, Hironimus filed a lawsuit in federal court through her lawyer Thomas Hunker, claiming circumcising her son would violate the boy’s constitutional rights. Judge Gillen and Palm Beach County Sheriff Ric Bradshaw were named in the suit.
On Monday May 18, an emergency hearing was held in the courtroom of US District Judge Kenneth Marra, who expressed skepticism that the long-running court battle the circumcision amounted to a constitutional issue worthy of being argued in federal court after being exhaustively litigated in state courts and in which a state judge had already ruled.
“Aren’t you really asking me to revisit and second-guess?” Marra asked near the start of the 80-minute hearing. Marra withheld from ruling on the case but did order Nebus to not have the child undergo circumcision without ten days’ notice to the court.
On May 20, Thomas Hunker, the attorney for Hironimus (who lost similar legal challenges in two state courts), notified Judge Marra that Hironimus voluntarily withdrew the month-old case, and would be barred from filing it again in federal court. Hunker said they quit the federal lawsuit because it appeared hopeless, in light of Monday’s hearing. “Unfortunately, Judge Marra was not only not sympathetic, he seemed quite hostile toward our position,” said Hunker.
Hironimus wasn’t located until May 14 at the Broward County shelter where she was staying with her son. Brought before Judge Jeffrey Gillen on Friday, May 22 (after 9 days in jail), Hironimus again declined to sign a consent form for the surgery, so she was told she would remain jailed indefinitely. After the hearing recessed and she reconsidered, she reluctantly agreed to sign, sobbing as she put pen to paper.
Hironimus posted bond and was released at 10:18 pm Saturday, May 23, jail records show.
The father’s attorney said the surgery had not yet been scheduled, but Gillen had given him sole authority, temporarily, for the boy’s medical decisions, and granted a motion to allow him to travel out-of-state to have the procedure completed. Nebus had testified in Gillen’s court that three Florida doctors who had agreed to perform the surgery had withdrawn because of the controversy.
Though the signature solved a contempt charge against her, Hironimus still faces a criminal charge of interference with child custody, which is a felony in Florida carrying a 5-year sentence. Lawyers for both the mother and father have declined to comment, citing an ongoing gag order in the case.
At least on face value, the son’s bodily integrity would appear to be supported by the terms of the UN Declaration on the Rights of the Child, which promises to enable him to develop “in conditions of freedom and dignity.” Both mother and child would also appear to have the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on their side, which ensures their life, liberty and security of person, as well as their freedom from cruel or degrading treatment. But that apparently means nothing in Florida.
“If Heather’s child were a girl, she would be protected by federal and state law from anybody tampering with her genitals,” said Chapin. “We are asking for the same justice for American boys.”
“If anyone finds out the circumstances under which she signed, a doctor would be insane to carry out that surgery,” she said.
Groove of the Day
85° and Clear