A Republican lawmaker in the Idaho House is pushing back on a headline suggesting he does not understand female anatomy. A story published Monday by The Associated Press received attention on social media and suggested that Idaho state Rep. Vito Barbieri was unaware that a woman's reproductive and digestive systems aren't connected.
Some background: the Idaho House State Affairs Committee was hearing testimony on a bill that would bar doctors from prescribing medicine to induce an abortion, also known as a chemically-induced abortion, via telemedicine. The use of telemedicine is not uncommon in very rural states like Idaho. One of the witnesses testifying against the bill's passage was Dr. Julie Madsen, an emergency care physician. Dr. Madsen called the bill "flawed legislation" that could have “unintended consequences that could affect both physicians and women in Idaho.”
During her testimony, Dr. Julie Madsen referenced procedures outside the realm of reproductive care that would not be barred by this bill that she deemed higher risk than a chemically-induced abortion. One such medical procedure Dr. Madsen referenced while testifying was conducting a colonoscopy by swallowing a tiny camera.
Several moments later when Barbieri questioned Dr. Madsen about the remote colonoscopy she referenced, he asked if it could be performed using pharmaceuticals. Dr. Madsen answered that it could not, and proceeded to explain how the swallowed camera sends images to a doctor who may be physically far away from the patient for analysis — something drugs simply could not replicate. Barbieri then asked, "Can this same procedure then be done in a pregnancy, swallowing a camera and helping the doctor determine what the situation is?"
"Mr. Chairman and Representative," Dr. Madsen replied. "it cannot be done in pregnancy simply because when you swallow a pill it would not end up in the vagina."
Laughter is heard following Dr. Madsen's reply on the audio recording of the committee testimony. "Fascinating," Barbieri said. "That certainly makes sense, doctor."
"My point was rhetorical. I got the response I was expecting."'
What's unclear from the audio recording is whether Barbieri's question and reply were meant sarcastically. In a phone conversation with msnbc, Barbieri made the case that they were.
"My point was rhetorical," Barbieri said. "I got the response I was expecting, I was leading her to it."
During her testimony, Dr. Madsen told the assembled lawmakers that the bill in question "intrudes upon the physician-patient relationship." She continued saying it forces doctors "to depart from their ethical obligation to provide medical care which is based on science and their best medical judgment rather than arbitrary restrictions that are imposed by the legislature.”
When asked by msnbc about the risk posed in prescribing chemically-induced abortion as compared to the risk from other types of diagnoses and prescribing of medicines by telemedicine, Barbieri argued that the risk to women from chemically-induced abortion must be viewed differently.
Dr. Madsen, however, said for the legislature to act in these matters is "dangerous."
“You're a layperson legislature, you meet a few weeks a year," Madsen said. "Between your close of session this year and your open of session next year, there will have been literally thousands of advances in medicine.” Madsen then said for the legislature to attempt to pass laws based on their current understanding of medicine rather than leaving it to trained care-takers to decide a standard if treatment is "a dangerous practice."