Back in February, Idaho state Rep. Vito Barbieri became Internet famous when he posed a question about abortions and telemedicine in late February. And by "Internet famous," I mean he became a cyberweb laughingstock, most recently being made fun of just last night on Comedy Central's new and funny The Nightly Show featuring Larry Wilmore.
The Idaho state legislature was debating a bill to place restrictions on chemically induced abortions and the doctor testifying was suggesting that performing colonscopies via telemedicine was more dangerous to the patient than an abortion caused by pharmaceuticals. After the doctor explains that the sort of capsule-based camera one swallows for a stomach- or colon-based procedure wouldn't work for a gynecological one—for anatomical reasons—Barbieri ends his questioning with that classic vague sign-off: "Fascinating."
He told The Spokesman-Review that his line of questioning was "rhetorical":
"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."
The committee voted in favor of restricting what one anti-abortion lobbyists called "webcam abortions." For his part, Barbieri is bullish on telemedicine as long as it is used to perform procedures of which he approves.
"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. I'm convinced that when a woman becomes pregnant she is no longer taking food for herself, but there is another now involved in the mother's health, and this is a proper role of government to protect life."
It's one thing to argue that abortion should be outlawed. It's another to conflate a pro-life position with medical expertise and concerns for safety of the pregnant woman (especially when medical experts agree that a chemically induced abortion is safe). One of Barbieri's colleagues was blunter in acknowledging that the goal here is not to protect the safety of the patient but to make it more difficult to get an abortion:
"In my view, HB 154 may indeed reduce the number of abortions that take place. And from the very beginning of my political career, I took the oath to protect the unborn child. And I know we all have different views on this subject, but because they are so helpless and so vulnerable, we've got to step up."
Across the country, anti-abortion legislators are using bogus safety concerns such as those about telemedicine to win victories that they cannot via straight-up political arguments or votes. Arguably the most effective approach has been to try and use onerous building codes and other laws to shut down existing abortion facilities on false safety grounds. Ironically, that means that conservative lawmakers promulgate exactly the sort of ineffective and unnecessary rules and regulations for which they typically attack liberals. And liberals, to complete the hypocrisy, say that less regulation and state oversight is a good thing, at least in this instance.
Serious principle and honest conversation are in such damned short supply in politics.
That process is explored in this Reason TV video, "Abortion Rights vs. Women's Safety in Virginia."