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Abortion and circumcision

Published: May 1, 2022

Updated: August 12, 2023

IMPORTANT NOTE: Circumcision Choice administrators have differing views on the subject of abortion. Circumcision Choice does not take a position on legal or ethical aspects of abortion, which is outside the scope of our mission. This article responds to statements by anti-circumcision activists and points out the inconsistency or logical incoherence of their positions.

The topic of abortion is in the news in the United States. By the end of June the U.S. Supreme Court will issue a ruling in Dobbs v Jackson, a case that will determine whether or not an abortion ban before fetal viability is constitutional. There is a widespread expectation that the justices may weaken Roe v Wade, the landmark 1973 decision that established a legal right to abortion. It's possible that the Court may overturn Roe altogether. If the Court issues such a ruling, decisions about abortion restrictions would shift to each individual state.

[See update at the end of this article]

In the circumcision debate abortion is often used as an analogy to foreskin removal. This article will examine and refute the claim that both sides of the abortion debate lead to an anti-circumcision position. On the contrary, we will show that the majority of intactivists hold a position on abortion that is indefensible when compared to their position against circumcision.


Based on Supreme Court precedents at the time of this article, abortion is legal for pregnant minors with the consent of both parents. Some states allow abortion with the consent of just one parent, and several states allow abortion with parental notification (with or without parental consent.) In 12 states a minor can have an abortion without parental notification. [1]

Circumcision opponents seek to criminalize elective circumcision for all boys under 18. Intactivists claim to champion the rights of boys. But in this matter intactivists hold a sexist position that rejects a boy's right to bodily autonomy. Pro choice intactivists would allow a 14 year-old girl to make a medical decision about her body without any parental involvement. (Even most anti-abortion intactivists seem to spend far more time protesting against circumcision than against abortion.) But they would deny her 16 year-old boyfriend the right to make a less intrusive medical decision about his body - even if both of his parents consent and offer to pay the cost for the procedure.

PUSHBACK: A minor boy cannot make an informed decision. A teenage boy may have as much knowledge about his foreskin and the consequences of circumcision as a 14 year-old girl may have about the consequences of abortion. According to the CDC, 20% of American males have had sexual intercourse by age 15. [2] In other words, by their 16th birthdays, 20% of American males have had a year of sexual experience. That's certainly enough experience for a teenager to recognize how his foreskin may affect his sexual performance and pleasure. Enough for a teenager to make an informed decision to have his foreskin removed. Furthermore, a 2015 Canadian study found that women have a preference for a circumcised partner for vaginal sex, oral sex, anal sex, and mutual masturbation. [3] Thus circumcision can increase a teenager's likelihood of engaging in these sexual activities. (An intactivist who would oppose circumcision in order to discourage sexual activity between consenting underage teens forfeits the right to use the argument: "His body, his choice.")

PUSHBACK: A circumcision decision can be delayed until adulthood; an abortion decision cannot.

Circumcision provides immediate health benefits for a sexually active teen. The CDC reported that 48% of boys have had sexual intercourse before 18. [2] In other words, almost half of American males are at risk for contracting an STD before the age that intactivists would allow them to choose circumcision. (See our article "Just use a condom?" to learn why a strategy of teaching teenagers to use condoms is flawed and insufficient.) [4] Forcing a teen to wait years until he can have his foreskin removed increases his risk of acquiring an STD, which could put other partners - both female and male - at risk.


Intactivists say that the same arguments should lead someone on either side of the abortion debate to oppose circumcision.

According to a Saving Our Sons meme, PRO CHOICE means bodily autonomy for the woman: "Her body, her choice." They say that by the same token, a bodily autonomy advocate must side with the baby boy: "His body, his choice." However the law recognizes that bodily autonomy is not an absolute right. There are exceptions. A parent makes a great number of decisions about her child's body, including vaccinations and other medications, corrective cosmetic surgeries, and ear piercings. Joseph Mazor, a British bioethicist who is not himself pro-circumcision, has argued that the right to bodily integrity only applies to situations in which the procedure in question is unarguably not beneficial, neither medically nor otherwise (e.g., certain cosmetic procedures), and is being performed on the individual for others' benefit - not for the patient's own benefit. [5]

The meme continues: PRO LIFE means bodily autonomy for the child: "baby's body, baby's rights." This slogan, however, is not used - and has never been used - by the anti-abortion community. The phrase "baby's body, baby's rights" doesn't even appear on the internet, with one insignificant exception. [6] Nor do opponents say that babies "have rights to their full body." Abortion opponents simply don't express their views in terms of a baby's choice or a full body. Their most common argument is that abortion is murder because the fetus is a human being with a right to life. That argument doesn't apply to circumcision.


Between abortion and circumcision there are four common positions: [7]

  • pro choice on abortion and pro parents choice (PPC) on circumcision

  • anti abortion and anti-circumcision

  • pro choice on abortion and anti-circumcision

  • anti abortion and pro parents choice (PPC) on circumcision

We will explain why three of these positions are logically consistent and defensible, and why the fourth is not.

Pro choice on abortion and PPC on circumcision is consistent based on an adult's right to make medical decisions. An adult woman has an absolute right to make decisions that affect her body. Therefore she has a right to terminate her pregnancy. By contrast a baby is incapable of understanding or deciding on a medical procedure that has slight benefits and even slighter risks. Therefore the decision properly rests with his parents, who society presumes act in their child's best interests. This position is also consistent in terms of opposition to government meddling in such decisions.

Anti-abortion and anti-circumcision is consistent based on the supremacy of children's rights. A child's right to life takes precedence over a woman's right to control her reproductive system. Similarly, a boy has an absolute right to every part of his body, including his foreskin. The government must step in to protect the rights of the most vulnerable.

Anti-abortion and PPC on circumcision is consistent based on the best interests of the child. It is always in a child's best interest to be born alive, and he has an absolute right to life. It is in a child's benefit to have a reduced risk of urinary tract infection, phimosis, and balanitis. It's also in his best interest to have a reduced future risk of acquiring sexually transmitted diseases and penile cancer later in life.

Pro choice on abortion and anti-circumcision is an illogical position. Intactivists say that bodily autonomy is the common thread that connects the pro-choice and anti-circumcision views. The woman's bodily autonomy entitles her to terminate the pregnancy, and a child's bodily autonomy grants him a right to his foreskin. However, this argument ignores the bodily autonomy of the fetus. If pregnancy is a violation of a woman's bodily autonomy, then abortion is a violation of the fetus's bodily autonomy. A pro-choice intactivist would respond that bodily autonomy doesn't apply until birth. But from the perspective of the fetus, a right to bodily autonomy is far more crucial when his life is at risk than when just his foreskin is at risk.

To put it another way: most intactivists casually accept the termination of a pregnancy. They wouldn't dream of trying to change the mind of a woman who plans to abort. But if instead of abortion, the mother gives birth to her son and circumcises him, intactivists want her punished with a fine and a 6-year prison term. [8] Intactivists often blather that they are the voice of the baby, but that cannot be the case here. With few exceptions no male on earth would choose to have been aborted in utero rather than be born alive and then circumcised. The inescapable truth is that a pro choice intactivist values a flap of skin more than life itself - a standard that is inconsistent, incoherent, and indefensible.

PUSHBACK: Circumcision involves a body modification. Abortion does not.

It most certainly is a body modification to the fetus. Depending upon the method, abortion may involve removal of the fetus in parts via suction, or forceps. A pro choice intactivist who voices this objection is conceding that the fetus is not part of the mother's body.

PUSHBACK: The fetus uses the adult's uterus without the adult's permission. Similarly, the parent removes the infant's foreskin without the infant's permission. The uterus is a unique organ in that - unlike every other part of a human body - its intended purpose is to benefit another person. The uterus is designed for a fetus to survive and grow until birth. In fact its use by the fetus is consistent with the primary purpose of the uterus. Moreover circumcision is performed in order to benefit the newborn baby. By contrast abortion harms the body of the fetus and is performed in order to terminate the life of the fetus.

PUSHBACK: Intactivists seek a law that penalizes the person who performs the circumcision, not the parents.

Intactivists have sought to use anti-FGM laws as a model to criminalize circumcision. Many FGM laws impose punishments on everyone involved in the mutilation, including those who arrange the mutilation. Moreover, a law that targets circumcision providers wouldn't invalidate our statement. Physicians, nurses, mohels, and mohelets who circumcise their own sons (or nephews or grandsons) would be criminally liable under such a law.

PUSHBACK: You cannot compare abortion and circumcision; they are separate issues.

As we've shown in this article, many intactivists do compare circumcision and abortion. Moreover, circumcision opponents love to compare circumcision to rape, tonsillectomy, appendectomy, amputation of limbs and digits, female genital mutilation, child abuse, and other subjects. They don't get to use analogies and then object when their adversaries use analogies. Either both sides get to use analogies or neither side does. Intactivists cannot have it both ways.

PUSHBACK: Abortion is healthcare. Circumcision is not.

According to whom? Whether or not abortion is healthcare is a matter that is highly controversial and in dispute. Healthcare is generally defined as the treatment and prevention of disease especially by trained medical professionals. Abortion opponents would argue that abortion is not healthcare because pregnancy is a natural and temporary condition, not a disease to be cured. Opponents would say that both mother and fetus are entitled to professional care to protect their health. As for circumcision, it's widely recognized that the procedure provides preventative medical benefits.


Intactivists cannot refuse to consider some analogies while simultaneously demanding that we accept their analogies. Intactivists cannot claim to defend the rights of boys while granting greater medical autonomy to a 14 year-old girl than to her 16 year-old boyfriend. Intactivists cannot argue that both sides of the abortion debate lead to an anti-circumcision position. One can hold any position on abortion while supporting parental choice for circumcision. Abortion and circumcision are both controversial issues, and the debates over these procedures will remain contentious for the foreseeable future.


On June 24, 2022 the Supreme Court issued its decision in the Dobbs v Jackson case. By a 5-4 vote the Court overturned its 1973 Roe v Wade decision on abortion restrictions, which will now be determined by each state.


Our article "Is there an intactivist tipping point?" explains why intactivism is like abortion in that there is not a tipping point of support that will assure victory.

Our article "The ethics of circumcision" further explores the implications of an ethical position that values a flap of skin more than life.

[1] "Parental Involvement in Minors' Abortions"; Guttmacher Institute; January 1, 2022

[2] Gladys M. Martinez, Ph.D., and Joyce C. Abma, Ph.D.; "Sexual Activity and Contraceptive Use Among Teenagers Aged 15–19 in the United States, 2015–2017"; National Centers for Health Statistics, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; May 2020

[3] Jennifer A Bossio et al; “You either have it or you don’t: The impact of male circumcision status on sexual partners”; Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality; 2015

[4] Melanie Schaab, RN, MS, FNP-C; "Just use a condom?"; Circumcision Choice; June 11, 2020

[5] Joseph Mazor; "The child's interests and the case for the permissibility of male infant circumcision"; BMJ Journal of Medical Ethics; July 2013

[6] An April 25, 2022 Google search for "baby's body, baby's rights" produced a single tweet by a man with a total of 7 followers. Cesary Kwella tweet; November 22, 2019. The tweet was in reply to a pro-choice Amnesty International tweet; the message was a direct response to the Amnesty slogan: "My body, my rights.")

[7] For simplicity we are including "pro circumcision" in the pro parents choice position.

[8] A 2011 San Francisco ballot measure submitted by intactivists would have imposed a penalty of up to $1,000 and up to a year in prison for anyone who performed an elective circumcision for a minor boy within the city limits. Intactivists supported a 2018 legislative attempt in Iceland that would have imposed a penalty of up to 6 years in prison.


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