“Foreskin is not a birth defect and no one wants less penis,” were the closing words of New Hampshire state Rep. Emily Phillips on March 21 in support of a bipartisan bill to cut Medicaid funding for infant circumcision. The room, full of nearly 400 state representatives, burst into cheers and ovations. While most of us find that incontestable statement amusing, circumcision is no laughing matter.

The process of this 15-minute surgery and subsequent recovery is excruciatingly painful for babies, interrupts maternal-child bonding, and can lead to numerous immediate and latent complications for men which necessitate further costly medical interventions and may affect them for life.

Rep. Phillips is a “regret mom,” who feels she would never have consented, had she known the facts and the possibility of complications before she agreed to the surgery for her first baby. Because she heard from others who were in the same boat, she sponsored two bills: HB1706 to require proper informed consent to be given to parents, and HB1683 to eliminate Medicaid funding for the surgery since it is an elective procedure that many argue is not in the best interest of healthy babies. Her bills were co-sponsored by an additional six Republican and two Democratic representatives, some of whom have personally suffered from complications or were pressured by doctors to circumcise their babies.

Earlier in the year, dozens showed up in Concord for a public hearing in support of the bills. Pro-genital integrity organizations such as Intaction and Intact America were present. Many more, including Doctors Opposing Circumcision, Attorneys for the Rights of the Child, and legal scholar Peter Adler, author of “Circumcision is a Fraud,” submitted written testimony. In addition to the representatives sponsoring the bill, medical professionals, lawyers, researchers, men harmed by the procedure, and regret moms testified for over four hours. While the Health and Human Services and Elderly Affairs Committee agreed with the need for better informed consent, they could not agree if it was something to be legislated or if they liked the wording of the bill so it was sent to Interim Study.

The Medicaid bill, however, did make it out of committee with a 14 to 6 vote and reached the House Floor on March 21. Opponents felt Medicaid recipients should be given the same medical coverage that people with private insurance have. They missed the point that some private plans do not cover this surgery, and most will follow what state plans cover. Unfortunately, for those who have not had time to research it, reimbursement sends the message that the procedure is unequivocally beneficial.

Some of those who oppose argue religion is a valid justification for Medicaid reimbursement for the surgery and the bill is therefore antisemitic. Even some Christians assume it is their religious duty, despite numerous references in the New Testament to the contrary and baptism having taken its place. Interestingly, those people seem to be unaware that hospital circumcisions do not fulfill the religious requirement for Jewish people, who are to be circumcised by a Mohel on the eighth day of life during a special ceremony. No religious ceremony is reimbursable by health insurance.

Not surprisingly, while Republicans, who like saving money for taxpayers, voted in large numbers for the bill, most Democrats voted against it, despite being fully aware of the “my body, my choice” argument. The Medicaid bill lost by 19 votes the first time around but was revived a week later after a reconsideration motion was made. Sadly, it still came up seven votes short. New Hampshire could have been the 19th state to eliminate Medicaid coverage of circumcision in the U.S. and to send a signal that the state will not partake in incentivizing unnecessary genital surgeries.

Ironically, these bills reached the New Hampshire State House during Genital Integrity Awareness Week. Demonstrators began gathering in front of the U.S. Capitol years before March 29, 1997, when female genital mutilation was outlawed in the U.S. Those people feel the law should have also included men to avoid violating the equal protection clause spelled out in the 14th Amendment. With all the information now available online, a growing number of men realize that something of value was taken from them without their consent. Many have come to view it as a human rights issue. New Hampshire outlawed female genital mutilation in 2018.

Cultural norms can be challenging to change. Although the unkind cut now only affects about 50 percent of boys born in the U.S., Marilyn Milos admits in her recent memoir, “Please Don’t Cut the Baby,” that she never thought her job would take this long. When she founded NOCIRC in 1985, she assumed it would only take a two-year hiatus from her job as a nurse in California to put an end to the practice. She set out to get information into the hands of American parents after witnessing firsthand how gruesome the surgery was and how terribly it hurt the baby. She found out too late that there was no medical reason for her sons’ circumcisions, but vowed to make sure others got the message in time to protect their own babies.

Often referred to as a cure in search of a disease, circumcision has been abandoned by every other English-speaking country where it was once in favor for puritanical reasons, except for the U.S. Research into its history reveals disturbing justifications for the procedure by Victorian-era doctors who felt that masturbation, aided by the foreskin, was the cause of numerous diseases.

Intact America’s Georgeanne Chapin, who also just published her book, “This Penis Business,” feels circumcision gets an easy pass from medical trade associations. They shield themselves from legal and financial liability by making it a parental choice, while encouraging insurance companies to continue to cover the procedure. Some have raised the issue that selling foreskins for research and cosmetics is also a profitable business. Medical organizations outside of the U.S. have strongly criticized the American Academy of Pediatrics position statement for cultural bias.

The New Hampshire legislature may not be ready to part with taxpayer support for the unnecessary cut, or mandate what information parents get to learn before agreeing to it, but with resources such as www.circumcisiondebate.org, and numerous others, the genie is out of the bottle.