An Idaho lawmaker revealed his confusion about female anatomy during a legislative debate over a proposed abortion bill on Monday.
According to the Associated Press, Idaho Rep. Vito Barbieri (R) asked a doctor testifying before the House State Affairs Committee whether a woman could have a remote gynecological exam by swallowing a tiny camera. Dr. Julie Madsen told him no, that’s not possible, because items that are swallowed do not end up in the vagina.
The Idaho legislature is currently considering a bill that would ban telemedicine abortion — emerging technology that allows a doctor to remotely prescribe the abortion pill over a video chat. Telemedicine has the potential to expand access to reproductive health care among rural women who live far away from the nearest abortion clinic.
Idaho, like many of the 16 states that have recently passed telemedicine abortion bans, does not currently have any clinics that offer the remote service. Telemedicine abortion was pioneered by Planned Parenthood clinics in Iowa, but similar programs have been prevented from getting off the ground in other places because states have moved to proactively ban the practice.
Most medical professionals are opposed to restrictions on the abortion pill because they impede women’s access to early abortions, which are safer and less expensive than later procedures. Indeed, Madsen was testifying against the legislation when Barbieri asked her about the potential of performing remote exams on patients with ingestible cameras.
Telemedicine is a common type of health care delivery service, particularly among vulnerable populations like rural Americans and veterans. GOP lawmakers typically support the practice in general, but oppose it specifically when it comes to abortion care. Barbieri is no exception. During the three-hour hearing on the proposed “Physician Physical Presence and Women Protection Act” on Monday, he reiterated this position on telemedicine abortion.
“I just want to point out that I think from my perspective, telemedicine has great advantages,” Barbieri said. “It’s important to recognize cost savings, ease of use, accessibility. However, there are certain examinations and procedures which require personal hands-on exams, and I think this is one of them.”
The GOP lawmaker, who sits on the board of a right wing “crisis pregnancy center” that works to dissuade women from choosing abortion, added that “this is a proper role of government to protect life.”
In fact, research into Iowa’s telemedicine abortion program has found that there’s no difference between women who are prescribed the abortion pill in person versus the women who consult with a doctor remotely. Surveys among the patients who have used the service report low rates of complications and high levels of satisfaction.
Nonetheless, the committee approved the bill 13–4, advancing it to a full vote in the Idaho House. The legislation has a good chance of advancing since both chambers of the state legislature are GOP-controlled.