New Bedford, Fall River See Anti-Circumcision Protests
Consider them ticked off about tips offed.
About a half dozen “intactivists” took to the streets of New Bedford this afternoon, and Fall River earlier today, to protest the circumcision of young babies. “Intactivists” – a word combining “intact” and “activist” – contend that circumcision is both unnecessary and cruel.
The protesters came dressed all in white, with the men’s groins covered in red paint meant to symbolize the blood associated with circumcision.
“Primarily this is a human rights issue, and this is an issue of violence against children,” said David Atkinson of Boston, the spokesperson for the group of protestors.
An organization known as the Bloodstained Men & Their Friends has embarked upon a 13-day protest tour holding “Circumcision Crisis Protests” across New England. They were in Fall River earlier on Tuesday, protesting at the corner of Tucker Street and Rhode Island Avenue, before then spending two hours in New Bedford at the corner of Brownell Avenue and Kempton Street, right at the end of Route 140.
The organization was formed in 2012, and Atkinson said he joined in 2014 after attending the International Symposium on Genital Autonomy and Children’s Rights in Boulder, Colorado.
“I saw a lot of presentations from lawyers and doctors and ethicists, and that’s when I understood that this is worse than I already knew, and it’s just an incredibly destructive thing to do to a child’s genitals,” he said.
Atkinson stood on the island at the end of Route 140, holding a sign that read “Stop Cutting Baby Penis.” Nearby, a woman held a sign that read “Infant Circumcision Is Evil,” while others had signs such as “Nobody Wants Less Penis” and “Foreskin Is Not a Birth Defect.” Cars driving by mostly honked in apparent support.
“The response here has been pretty good. We’ve seen lots of people honking and cheering and giving us a thumbs up, and occasionally we do get some hecklers giving us the finger instead of a thumbs up, but for the most part people are happy to see us,” Atkinson said.
While the protesters had come from all over – including from Oregon, Sacramento, Buffalo, West Virginia and Denver – Atkinson said other locals will often join in, such as one person did in New Bedford and two women did in Fall River.
“Occasionally people will see us and they’ll park and come join us for a half hour or an hour or just a few minutes to take a photo,” he said.
Atkinson spoke of reasons why it is better for the foreskin to remain on the penis, citing the loss of natural lubrication for intercourse and desensitization.
However, a 2016 study published by Dr. Jennifer Bossio concluded that circumcision does not reduce feeling in the penis. In fact, Atkinson bristled at a question about whether there is medical evidence to show that circumcision is a negative, since there are many studies that seem to contradict the idea that it is.
“No amount of medical studies can justify amputating a perfectly healthy body part from a child,” he said. “You wouldn’t say well, ‘Oh let’s do a bunch of studies to see whether or not it’s beneficial to cut off a baby’s pinky finger, or to gouge out an eyeball’ or anything like that, but for some reason people start talking about scientific studies when they ask whether or not you should cut off part of a baby’s penis.”
“On the one hand, the scientists from around the world agree with us that this is a damaging thing to do but on the other hand, it’s not even a scientific question, it’s a question of human rights and violence against children,” he said.
Count former presidential candidate Andrew Yang as someone who agrees. He told the Daily Beast that he is "highly aligned with the intactivists."
There are also those who believe that the anti-circumcision movement is also inherently anti-Semitic or Islamophobic, since both the Jewish and Islamic peoples believe in circumcision as a religious rite. There is even a group that monitors anti-Semitism in the intactivist movement and suggested that a man who posts anti-Semitic things on Facebook is a member of the Bloodstained Men.
Atkinson dismissed the notion that there was a hidden agenda like that.
“We are opposed to discrimination based on an individual’s religious, ethnic or cultural background, and this is why we oppose the gential mutilation of all children regardless of the motivations of the perpetrator and regardless of the religious beliefs of the victim’s parents,” he said.
After beginning to answer another question, he stopped and said he wanted to go back to the anti-Semitism question and add more. After a lengthy pause, he stated, “We support the freedom of the individual to choose its own religion, and to not have a religion which he does not choose carved permanently into his penis. When a religious symbol is carved into the genitals of a child, that individual’s religious freedom has been violated.”
“If you want to modify your own body for your own religious beliefs, I would have no problem with that. The problem comes when you inflict body modification on someone else,” he said. “And so a child, as a human being, has a right to keep its own body, and should have the religious freedom to choose their own religion and not have religious body modifications forced onto them.”
The group has events planned tomorrow at Tufts Medical Center in Boston and in Watertown, as well as multiple other events around Boston. It will return to this area on Saturday, August 6 with events planned in Johnston, Rhode Island and Newport, Rhode Island.