Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang backtracked on infant circumcision, drawing criticism from anti-circumcision 'intactivists'

Yang 2020 / Andrew FrawleyAndrew Yang speaks at the Iowa State Fair.
  • Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang recently criticised infant circumcision, the practice of removing a baby’s foreskin after birth.
  • Yang stated his support for intactivism, a portmanteau of “intact” and “activism” that describes organised efforts to oppose and outlaw infant circumcision.
  • Soon thereafter, Yang clarified that he supported the right of parents to choose to circumcise their children.
  • The about-face drew criticism from anti-circumcision intactivists, who described his position as incompatible with their movement.

Andrew Yang, one of the seventeen declared candidates for the Democratic nomination, is a former technology executive best known for his plan to implement Universal Basic Income. The plan would give every American a guaranteed income of $US1,000 per month – a policy fellow Democrats have occasionally, and reluctantly, debated.

But Yang has also attracted attention for his position on circumcision, a subject rarely approached in political races.

Earlier this month, Yang expressed his opposition to routine infant circumcision. “I’m highly aligned with the intactivists,” he told The Daily Beast, referring to groups that believe circumcision should be outlawed. “History will prove them even more correct.”

The intactivist community believes circumcision should be outlawed because infant children cannot consent to circumcision and cannot exercise bodily autonomy. Groups like Bloodstained Men and Intact America say circumcision is painful, and believe “a child’s right to bodily integrity outweighs parental preference, cultural norms, and religious rituals.”

A day after Yang spoke of his intactivist affiliation, he seemingly contradicted himself with a more equivocal stance. “I support the freedom of parents to adopt circumcision for any religious or cultural ritual as desired,” he wrote.

Self-described “intactivists” criticised Yang’s statement as backtracking.

“Andrew Yang’s ‘clarification’ is simple backtracking on his original statement – he no doubt was succumbing to pressure from those who promote culture-based genital modification,” Georganne Chapin, the executive director of Intact America, told INSIDER.

“Yang’s clarification supporting the freedom of parents to circumcise their child for essentially any reason does not align with the goal of the intactivist movement, which is to allow men to choose for themselves whether to have this life altering surgery,” said a spokesman for the National Organisation of Restoring Men, another intactivist outfit.

“We disagree with Mr. Yang as to who has the right to decide how much penis a boy and future man should be allowed to keep,” added a spokesman for Bloodstained Men.“That right belongs to the owner of the penis alone.”

Routine infant circumcision refers to the practice of surgically removing an infant’s foreskin shortly after birth. It accounts for the majority of circumcisions, which can also be performed on adults. Slightly more than a third of the world’s male population is circumcised.

Outside of the US, the procedure carries religious connotations, particularly in Islam and Judaism. In the United States, however, circumcision is more often treated as a secular, elective procedure, to be chosen by an infant’s parents. This view, and the complex history of the practice in the US, has helped sustain the country’s remarkably high rate of circumcision. According to a 2016 study, 7 in 10 American men lack a foreskin.

Critics of routine infant circumcision argue that removing a baby’s foreskin violates their bodily autonomy and subjects them to a traumatising surgery designed to excise a natural part of their body. Documentaries like “American Circumcision,”and anti-circumcision advertising campaigns in major US cities, have promoted these arguments to millions of people.

Critics of intactivism, in turn, assert circumcision is relatively harmless, offers medical benefits, and forms an important ritual of multiple religious traditions. Religious leaders have warned that legislation banning infant circumcision would violate religious freedom. When Iceland contemplated such a ban last year, an executive at the American Jewish Committee said the effort represented “an existential threat to Jewish life.”

Yang didn’t respond to requests for comment. He’s not entirely alone. INSIDER asked each active Democratic campaign whether their candidate has a position on infant circumcision. Not one of them responded.

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