VIENNA 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, officials said on Monday.
Spooked by a regional court ruling in neighbouring Germany that the practice supported by Muslims and Jews amounted to physical abuse, the governor of Austria's Vorarlberg province last week advised doctors to suspend it, triggering a heated debate.
Another state governor came out in favour of a national ban.
Austria's Catholic, Protestant, Jewish and Muslim leaders united in defence of circumcision on Friday, 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 Vorarlberg Governor Markus 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 said.
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.
Austria is home to about half a million Muslims, most of whom are migrant workers from Turkey, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and about 9,000 Jews, down from about 200,000 before the annexation of Austria by Nazi Germany in 1938.
(Reporting by Michael Shields; Editing by Alessandra Rizzo)