Idaho Republican state Rep. Vito Barbieri made waves (and elicited a few incredulous chuckles) yesterday when he asked a doctor if a woman could undergo a remote gynecological exam by swallowing a small camera.
This was during a debate over an anti-abortion bill that would prevent doctors from providing “telemedicine" abortions — a.k.a. prescribing pregnancy-terminating drugs over webcam. The measure would make it illegal for doctors to offer this type of service until they had met the female patient in person.
In response, Julie Madsen, MD, patiently explained to Barbieri that things that are swallowed — whether they be pills, food, cameras, or anything else — don’t magically end up in a woman’s vagina. “Fascinating,” Barbieri replied. “That makes sense,” he continued, as the crowd reportedly failed to restrain laughter.
Barbieri tried to do some damage control later, claiming his question had been rhetorical. “She was drawing a parallel between a colonoscopy and how much more dangerous it was than a chemical abortion,” he attempted to clarify in an interview with The Spokesman-Review. “So, I was trying to draw out the distinctions.”
Barbieri is on the board of a crisis pregnancy center in northern Idaho. This bill, known as the Physician Physical Presence and Women Protection Act, is just one of various measures related to reproductive rights that Idaho lawmakers are debating this session. (The House State Affairs Committee is, as Kimberlee Kruesi of Associated Press points out, “one of the most conservative committees in Idaho’s Republican-controlled Statehouse.”)
Advocates of the anti-telemedicine bill claim it could help prevent abortions, as the wait time involved in seeing a doctor instead of meeting via webcam could propel some women to reconsider their decision about going through with the procedure. Opponents of the bill say it would mess with the patient-doctor relationship and, of course, limit women’s access to the abortion care they need.
Not surprisingly, Barbieri’s faux pas struck a chord on social media (and has already landed on his Wikipedia page), with plenty of users making fun of his apparent lack of anatomical knowlege:
The bill, sadly, still passed the committee, 13-4. It will now go to the House floor for a full vote.