Austrian Justice Ministry Okays Circumcision

Austria's Justice Minister says doctors are legally allowed to perform circumcisions, after a local governor instructs to stop them.

Elad Benari,

Preparing for circumcision
Preparing for circumcision
Israel news photo: Flash 90

Reuters reported on Monday that doctors in Austria's westernmost province have been cleared to resume circumcisions, after the Justice Ministry reassured them that they can perform the religious practice without risking criminal charges.

The decision comes after last week, the governor of Voralberg province in Austria instructed hospitals to halt non-medical circumcisions until the "legal situation is clarified" in his country.

The decision by Gov. Markus Wallner came after a German regional court ruled that ritual circumcision amounted to criminal bodily harm.

Austria's Catholic, Protestant, Jewish and Muslim leaders united in defense of circumcision on Friday, Reuters reported, condemning calls to limit the practice as an attack on religion and demanding that the government clarify its legality.

A letter from Justice Minister Beatrix Karl giving the legal all clear has now helped assuage concerns, a spokesman for Wallner said.

“We only wanted to get legal certainty for doctors so they can be clear whether they face legal consequences if they perform circumcisions for religious reasons,” he told Reuters.

Doctors still have to decide for themselves whether to perform such voluntary operations, which are not covered by the public health system, he added.

A spokesman for Karl said the minister had simply put in writing to Vorarlberg state officials what she and her legal experts have said in public for days.

Germany's lower house of parliament has passed a resolution to protect the religious circumcision of infant boys.

The resolution, jointly filed by Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives, their liberal coalition ally (FDP) and the opposition Social Democrats (SPD), demanded that “the government present a draft law in the autumn ... that guarantees that the circumcision of boys, carried out with medical expertise and without unnecessary pain, is permitted.”

The new law would overrule the previous decision by the district court in Cologne.

Merkel had told her party that Germany risked becoming a “laughing stock” over the court ruling.

She warned the board of her conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU) that Germany must restore legal protection for circumcision.

“I do not want Germany to be the only country in the world in which Jews cannot practice their rites,” Merkel said. “Otherwise we would make ourselves a laughing stock among nations.”

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