A Florida mother who had been in hiding for nearly three months to avoid a court-mandated circumcision of her son was arrested this week, the latest development in an ongoing and bitter legal battle about the procedure. Heather Hironimus was taken into custody Thursday evening on contempt charges for violating a judge’s ruling that ordered her to allow her 4-year-old son to be circumcised, local media reported.
Hironimus, 31, went missing with her son after a judge compelled her to turn the child over to his father, Dennis Nebus, and have him undergo the procedure. The child is reportedly “scared to death” of being circumcised. The couple were never married but had signed a parenting agreement in court in which Hironimus had initially agreed to their son being circumcised. However, she later changed her mind, setting off a drawn-out court battle with Nebus.
In March, a Palm Beach County judge signed a warrant for Hironimus’ arrest after she missed a court appearance. The mother subsequently filed a civil rights lawsuit last month arguing that circumcision violated her son’s Christian faith. While circumcision is largely a matter of personal preference rather than religion for many Christian parents in the United States, Hironimus’s case cited specific passages of the New Testament as well as Catholic teachings that read, “except when performed for strictly therapeutic medical reasons, directly intended amputations, mutilations, and sterilizations performed on innocent persons are against the moral law.”
The case has generated national attention, largely fueled by the growing “intactivist” movement, which argues that subjecting infant boys to the procedure is barbaric and that it is unethical for parents to make the decision for their children. Many of these activists have rallied behind Hironmius’ cause, framing the case as a human rights issue.
Circumcision rates in the U.S. have been decreasing in recent years but most newborn boys continue to undergo the procedure. A study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that between 1979 and 2010 the rates of infant circumcision had declined from 64.5 percent to 58.3 percent. The report attributed the decrease to a number of factors, including a change in guidance from health organizations like the American Academy of Pediatrics about the medical benefits of the procedure.