Circumcision And Abortion: The Case For Body Autonomy

Comparing male circumcision to abortion may seem like a stretch, but Freddie at L'Hote actually has a pretty decent argument.

First, Freddie adds a caveat: "Analogizing issues like circumcision and abortion too closely invites distortion of each, and people have (understandably) various sensitivities about political 'turf.' So I would caution anyone against making this kind of comparison too easily or in any kind of comprehensive way." But then he writes,

Often times, in this debate, you encounter people who take it as self-evidently absurd (and, often, funny) that anyone could be emotionally invested in the presence or absence of foreskin. You get these dueling sets of evidence, about STDs and penile cancer, and about pleasure reduction, etc. To me, trying to convince people empirically that the foreskin is important is exactly the wrong way to go about having the argument. Because just as with a pregnant woman and her choice, it is absolutely immaterial that anyone else be able to understand why a man might feel one particular way about his foreskin. It really doesn't matter if anyone on the Internet can be convinced about his feelings. It only matters that we recognize that it is his body.

Basically, he argues, it doesn't matter if we think the foreskin is essential or inessential, just as it doesn't matter if we think a particular woman should be able to carry her fetus to term. What matters is "a human being's ownership of his own body" (or, in the case of abortion, her own). It makes sense that a man — and not his parents — should decide what happens with his penis, and the controversy does bring up issues of body autonomy that swirl around the abortion debate as well. But there's a more obvious comparison: female circumcision.

Both involve permanently changing a child's (or sometimes young woman's) genitals, often without his or her consent. Both are sometimes performed for religious reasons, which makes judging them from the outside a little more difficult. But while the health effects of male circumcision are a matter of debate, the often dire complications from female circumcision are well-documented. Male circumcision can, some argue, reduce sexual pleasure, while female circumcision frequently eliminates it — in fact, that's sometimes the goal (although it's worth noting that the sexual effects of female circumcision are debated too).

It's hard not to consider female circumcision the more disturbing and potentially damaging procedure, but maybe that's exactly the point. A woman's right to control her own body is more frequently and severely contested than a man's right to control his, but this shouldn't necessarily eclipse issues like male circumcision. Instead, maybe we should take challenges to women's autonomy as opportunities to consider the bodily rights of all humans. I still wouldn't equate the right not to be circumcised with the right to choose, and I'm not prepared to say that male circumcision is a bad decision for all families. But it does seem like parents should consider in this decision the rights of the infant, and of the man he'll one day become.

Abortion And Circumcision [L'Hote, via Daily Dish]