Swallowed pills go where?

Barbieri says abortion query misrepresented

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COEUR d'ALENE - Rep. Vito Barbieri drew national criticism with a pair of questions he posed to a doctor Monday.

After the House State Affairs Committee conducted a public hearing Monday morning on HB 154, which would require a physician's examination for patients who are prescribed "chemical abortions," The Associated Press reported:

"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.

"Dr. Julie Madsen was testifying in opposition to the bill when Barbieri asked the question. Madsen replied that would be impossible because swallowed pills do not end up in the vagina."

In an interview later with The Press, Barbieri, R-Dalton Gardens, shook off the ridicule and said reporters quoted him out of context.

Here's a broader picture of the discussion.

Some chemical abortions referred to as the "morning after pill" are prescribed after a consultation over the Internet or webcam during early stages of pregnancy, according to an audio recording of the hearing. The committee heard three hours of testimony Monday morning from people supporting the legislation and those who do not.

During the hearing, Dr. Julie Madsen spoke in opposition to the legislation, saying "medical abortion," or what lawmakers call "chemical abortions," are considered a safe procedure and compared them to a colonoscopy. She testified that a woman who undergoes a colonoscopy has a risk 870 times greater than a woman who undergoes a medical or surgical abortion.

And, Madsen said, a colonoscopy is considered a safe procedure.

On the issue of "web-cam abortion," where a doctor diagnoses and prescribes treatment over a webcam, Madsen said it is a procedure that is "profoundly misunderstood."

"The attempt by laypersons to understand and codify something as dynamic as medicine is dangerous," Madsen said. "It's dangerous for the patients and it's dangerous for the physicians."

Barbieri questioned Madsen about the correlation she drew between an abortion and a colonoscopy.

"You mentioned the risk of colonoscopy. Can that be done by drugs?" he asked the doctor.

"It cannot be done by drugs, but it can be done remotely where you swallow a pill and the pill has a little camera and it makes its way through the intestines," she explained, adding that the images taken by that camera are then uploaded to be interpreted by a physician "who is often thousands of miles away."

That's when Barbieri posed his almost instantly infamous questions.

"Can this same procedure be done in a pregnancy?" he asked. "I mean swallowing a camera and helping a doctor determine what the situation is?"

Madsen replied: "Mr. chairman and representative, it cannot be done in pregnancy simply because when you swallow a pill it would not end up in the vagina."

After a burst of laughter in the committee chambers, Barbieri responded.

"Fascinating," he said. "That certainly makes sense, doctor."

Barbieri said after the hearing that he knew a pregnancy could not be diagnosed by swallowing a camera pill. He said he was trying to point out that making a parallel between diagnosing a colonoscopy patient over the Internet and diagnosing a pregnancy in the same manner was not possible.

"That was the whole point of my questioning," he said. "She took the opportunity to make light of it."

Barbieri said he had to make his point without making a political statement from the dais, so he tried to elicit the testimony he was seeking through his line of questioning.

For those who want to hear it for themselves, Barbieri said the hearing can be downloaded from the Idaho Legislature's website, under media archives.

"After listening to it, if it does sound like I believed this could really happen, I would be surprised," he said.

The committee approved the bill 13-4 on a party-line vote. It will now head to the House floor for a full vote.

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