Heather Hironimus and Dennis Nebus are fixated on their son’s foreskin. It is an obsession that has bound them together long beyond the end of their relationship. Nebus believes their 4-1/2-year-old son, Chase Ryan Nebus-Hironimus [the name needs to be clipped], should be circumcised for medical reasons. Hironimus believes circumcision is barbaric genital mutilation. Nebus has gone to court to get his son circumcised. Hironimus has gone to jail to prevent it. Their dispute is easily the weirdest, saddest, most disturbing battle yet in the war over circumcision.
Hironimus and Nebus had little luck in love. The Florida couple never married, and they separated about a year after Chase was born. As part of their separation, both Hironimus and Nebus signed a formal “parenting plan” approved by a judge. One portion of this plan specified that Nebus would take Chase to be circumcised and cover the costs. At the time, Hironimus agreed to this stipulation.
Nebus put off the circumcision until December of 2013—when he saw Chase, then 3, urinating on his leg. A pediatrician suggested Chase’s foreskin was too tight and should be removed. Later, a urologist questioned that diagnosis, but agreed that Chase would benefit generally from a circumcision. When Nebus informed Hironimus of the impending procedure, however, Hironimus balked. Since signing the parenting plan two years earlier, Hironimus had become an intactivist—an anti-circumcision activist who believes the removal of a child’s foreskin constitutes child abuse and a human rights violation.
When Hironimus refused to allow the procedure to go forward, Nebus took her to court to enforce the contract she had signed. A state court sided with Nebus, noting that their parenting plan “clearly and unambiguously provides” that Chase would be circumcised. An appeals court unanimously affirmed the ruling, and a judge ordered Hironimus to turn Chase over to Nebus so he could schedule the procedure. Hironimus instead disappeared with her son. The judge then issued a warrant for her arrest for interfering with child custody. For weeks Hironimus escaped arrest by hiding with Chase in a domestic violence shelter. (Hironimus has not claimed that she was abused.) While hiding out, Hironimus filed a federal lawsuit against Nebus, asserting that, by having Chase circumcised, Nebus would violate his son’s constitutional rights. Eventually, the police discovered Hironimus’ whereabouts, took her into custody, and turned Chase over to Nebus.
From her jail cell, Hironimus filed an emergency motion in federal court to prevent Nebus from having Chase circumcised. When a federal judge essentially laughed Hironimus out of court, she withdrew her federal suit. A state judge ruled that Hironimus will remain in jail until she signs the consent form for Chase to be circumcised. On Friday a weeping Hironimus signed the form. She still faces criminal charges for absconding with Chase in violation of her custody agreement.