BOISE, Idaho – An Idaho lawmaker received a brief lesson on female anatomy after asking if a woman can swallow a small camera for doctors to conduct a remote gynecological exam.
The question Monday from Republican state Rep. Vito Barbieri came as the House State Affairs Committee heard nearly three hours of testimony on a bill that would ban doctors from prescribing abortion-inducing medication through telemedicine.
Barbieri later said that the question was rhetorical and intended to make a point.
Dr. Julie Madsen, a physician who said she has provided various telemedicine services in Idaho, was testifying in opposition to the bill. She said some colonoscopy patients may swallow a small device to give doctors a closer look at parts of their colon.
“Can this same procedure then be done in a pregnancy? Swallowing a camera and helping the doctor determine what the situation is?” Barbieri asked.
Madsen replied that would be impossible because swallowed pills do not end up in the vagina.
“Fascinating. That makes sense,” Barbieri said, amid the crowd’s laughter.
The committee approved the bill 13-4 on a party-line vote, where it now goes to the House floor for a full vote. Barbieri, who sits on the board of a crisis pregnancy center in northern Idaho, voted in favor of the legislation.
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The panel is considered one of the most conservative committees in Idaho’s Republican-controlled Statehouse. Already this year, it has killed a proposal that would provide legal protections to gay and lesbian Idahoans and halted legislation proposed by a 14-year-old girl to designate the Idaho Giant Salamander as the official state amphibian. It has endorsed, however, a bill that would expand parental rights in Idaho law.
Under HB154, abortion-inducing medication could not be administered through telemedicine – which does not currently happen in Idaho – and requires doctors to make “all reasonable efforts” to schedule a follow-up visit. The bill is backed by the anti-abortion group Idaho Choose Life.
Anti-abortion advocates argue that the bill will protect women who may have an adverse reaction to abortion medication. Those opposed counter that the bill is an attempt to restrict abortions, pointing to women living in rural areas where access to clinics is already limited.
Monday afternoon Barbieri told The Spokesman-Review that he adamantly supports the bill, and wasn’t fazed by the social media attention his question garnered.
“I was being rhetorical, because I was trying to make the point that equalizing a colonoscopy to this particular procedure was apples and oranges,” he said. “So I was asking a rhetorical question that was designed to make her say that they weren’t the same thing, and she did so. It was the response I wanted.”
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The measure is one of several abortion-related bills Idaho lawmakers are considering this legislative session.
This includes a proposed bill seeking to define the scope of telemedicine in Idaho, which somewhat overlaps with HB154, because it specifically bans doctors from prescribing abortion drugs via videoconferencing. Over in the Idaho Senate, lawmakers are considering a bill that would require doctors who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at a local hospital.
“Children have no way to really challenge the forces that harm them and unborn children are especially susceptible to harm,” said Republican Rep. Linden Bateman. “In my view, this may reduce the number of abortions.”
This isn’t the first time Idaho lawmakers have received attention while debating abortion legislation.
In 2013, Republican Rep. Ron Mendive drew audible gasps in a committee when he asked if the American Civil Liberties Union-Idaho’s pro-abortion stance also meant they supported prostitution. A year prior, Republican Sen. Chuck Winder drew national criticism after he suggested on the Senate floor that a doctor should ask a woman who says she was raped could have been caused by “normal relations in a marriage.”