No, sir, a swallowed camera will not end up in a woman's uterus

By Sandra Sobieraj Westfall
February 24, 2015 02:30 PM
Matt Cilley/AP

A male Idaho lawmaker speaking in favor of an anti-abortion bill got a brief – and guffaw-inducing – primer on lady parts after asking if doctors could perform gynecological exams remotely by having women patients swallow small cameras.

The Republican-controlled state legislature’s House State Affairs Committee was hearing testimony from Dr. Julie Madsen in opposition to a bill that bans doctors from prescribing abortion-inducing medication via telemedicine – for example, through seeing their patients via Skype or FaceTime in this largely rural state.

Republican Vito Barbieri, retired attorney and married father of three, asked Madsen if a doctor could remotely assess the state of a woman’s pregnancy by having her swallow a small camera, according to The Associated Press, which covered the three-hour committee hearing on Monday.

After a moment of evidently stunned silence, Madsen replied no – “simply because when you swallow a pill, it would not end up in the vagina.”

Hoots of “Ha! Ha! Ha!” from the audience followed. Barbieri said simply, “Fascinating. That certainly makes sense, doctor.” And then he pivoted to another question.

Only that question, too, prompted a lesson – this one in Idaho geography.

Barbieri asked Madsen about Idaho doctors remotely treating Idaho patients “thousands of miles away.”

The physician replied: “Rep. Barbieri, just a point of clarification: We wouldn’t be talking about thousands of miles away because Idaho rules on telemedicine specify that you’re an Idaho-licensed physician.” (And the state is just 305 miles at its widest point, according to

Later in the day, Barbieri told The Spokesman-Review that his question about swallowing a camera was rhetorical and meant to make a point about medically-induced abortions via telemedicine, which opponents have dubbed “web-cam abortions.”

“I was trying to make the point that equalizing a colonoscopy to this particular procedure was apples and oranges,” Barbieri told the local newspaper. “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.”

The legislation was ultimately approved by the committee on a party-line vote of 13-4, with all four nays coming from the committee’s four Democrats. Madsen noted that the bill was written and passed by lay people who meet only a handful of times each year and she called it “government intrusion into private medical decisions putting government in exam rooms between women and their doctors.”

According to audio of the three-hour hearing available online, the exchange between the politician and the doctor went like this:

Rep. Barbieri: “You mentioned the risk of colonoscopy. Can that be done by drugs?”

Dr. Madsen: “It cannot be done by drugs. It can, however, be done remotely where you swallow a pill and this pill has a little camera, and it makes its way through your intestines and those images are uploaded to a doctor who’s often thousands of miles away, who then interprets that.”

Rep. Barbieri: Follow-up Mr. Chairman? Can this same procedure, then, be done in a pregnancy? (Silent pause.) Swallowing a camera and helping a doctor determine what the situation is?

Dr. Madsen: “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.” (Hooting laughter from the audience.)

Rep. Barbieri: “Fascinating. That certainly makes sense, doctor.”