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San Francisco could not ban circumcision of children under new state legislation proposed this month in the Assembly.

The measure, Assembly Bill 768, would apply to any city or county government but was introduced in response to a San Francisco ballot measure designed to prohibit child circumcision there.

"To enact an outright ban on an expression of personal, medical and religious freedom is an affront to all who value liberty," said Assemblyman Mike Gatto, a Los Angeles Democrat who proposed AB 768.

San Francisco's first-of-its-kind initiative has drawn national attention for targeting circumcision, removal of the male foreskin, a practice that has biblical roots and that many believe was commanded by God in a covenant with Abraham.

Opponents of circumcision liken it to "genital mutilation" -- the forced removal of a healthy body part from an unconsenting child. The San Francisco initiative allows for a medical exclusion but not a religious exclusion.

Lloyd Schofield, the main proponent of the S.F. initiative, said last month that "just because something has been done repeatedly doesn't make it moral or ethical."

If San Francisco's initiative is approved and enacted, violators could be jailed for a year, fined $1,000 -- or both.

AB 768 was introduced as an urgency measure, meaning that it requires a two-thirds vote of the Legislature and would take effect immediately if it clears that threshold and Gov. Jerry Brown signs it.

Assemblywoman Fiona Ma, a San Francisco Democrat who is teaming with Gatto to push AB 768, said it makes no sense for California to allow a "patchwork quilt" of local laws outlawing medical procedures.

"The city's measure would put the police department and politicians in charge of who can and cannot get circumcised," Ma said. "We should not be putting government in that position."

AB 768 is meant to clarify an existing state law that opponents of San Francisco's circumcision ballot measure have cited in a Superior Court lawsuit aimed at disqualifying the initiative from the November ballot.

The existing law, Business and Professions Code 460(b) reads: "No city, county or city and county shall prohibit a healing arts professional ... from engaging in any act or performing any procedure that falls within the professionally recognized scope of practice of that licensee."

The Legislature has not yet scheduled hearings on the measure.

U.S. Rep. Brad Sherman, a San Fernando Valley Democrat, recently introduced similar legislation in Congress.

Circumcision rates have been declining in the United States for the past several years. Today about half of all boys born in hospitals are circumcised, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.


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