Idaho Republican legislator apologises for comparing women’s reproductive care to milking cows

A Republican legislator from Idaho has apologised for comparing women’s health care to milking cows.

First-term Republican state representative Jack Nelsen issued the apology on Thursday, 12 January after he made the “inappropriate” remark during an introduction to the House Agricultural Affairs Committee on Wednesday.

Nelsen, who was elected representative of Idaho’s District 26 in November 2022, said his experience working with cattle has given him “some definite opinions” about “the women’s health thing” in his first-ever committee meeting.

“I’m a lifelong dairy farmer who retired, still own part of the dairy; grew up on the farm. I’ve milked a few cows, spent most of my time walking behind lines of cows, so if you want some ideas on repro and the women’s health thing, I have some definite opinions,” he chuckled.

Nelsen’s comments sparked backlash after the apparent joke was posted on the Idaho Democratic Party’s Twitter and Facebook page.

“Let us be clear: politicians like Jack Nelsen have no business mandating our reproductive health care decisions,” the group captioned the 45-second clip.

The Idaho Statesman also published an editorial on 12 January – titled, When Idaho legislator likens women’s reproductive rights to cows, it’s no laughing matter – criticising Nelsen’s remarks.

“Not only were his comments offensive and embarrassing, they were odd, given that he was simply introducing himself to the House Agriculture Committee,” they wrote. “This was how he chose to introduce himself, by comparing women’s health care with milking a cow?”

The Statesmen added that Nelsen’s comments were “embarrassing” and could make “Idaho a laughingstock of the nation.”

One day after the op-ed was published, the Republican legislator said in a statement that he was “embarrassed” by what he called “inappropriate remarks” and reiterated his stance as one of Idaho’s few pro-choice Republicans.

"The way I phrased my statement about women and reproductive rights yesterday completely missed the mark,” Nelsen said in a statement emailed to local news outlets on Thursday. “I’m embarrassed, and I offended others in the process. I am deeply sorry. I recognise the mistake and commit to doing better in the future.”

Nelsen also posted the apology to his Instagram, writing: “The women in my life have taught me strength, resilience, integrity, hard work, joy, and love. I absolutely respect women, and the right to choose their own health care. I have always operated and will continue to operate under the standard that the government does not belong in the doctor’s office.”

In Idaho, women’s reproductive health care faces a major threat after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v Wade in June 2022. The move allowed individual states to determine their own laws on abortion.

Following the Supreme Court ruling, Idaho was one of many states to enact a trigger law, which makes it a felony to perform an abortion or attempt to perform an abortion. At least 10 states – Alabama, Arkansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Texas and Wisconsin – have outlawed abortion entirely in nearly all instances, and more legal challenges are expected as more laws take effect.

While a number of Idaho’s abortion bans have been temporarily blocked by a federal judge, the Idaho Supreme Court struck down a lawsuit last week that was brought forth by Planned Parenthood, who argued that the state’s constitution doesn’t offer the fundamental right to an abortion.