On Friday, September 23rd, the University of Idaho sent a warning to its employees that promoting abortion or contraception while on the job could be a felony. It also said that the university would no longer make contraceptives available, citing state laws that prohibit public funds from being used on abortion and the advertisement of any contraceptive or abortion-related drugs.
“In this new and evolving legal landscape, how these laws will be enforced remains unclear,” the guidance states.
“Accordingly, the university and employees should be aware of the potential risks and penalties associated with conduct that may be perceived to violate the laws.”
The university’s Office of General Counsel also provided guidance for employees on how to comply with state laws regulating abortion and contraception, noting the school is “…committed to operating within the confines of laws.”
The guidance states that employees cannot promote, perform, counsel in favor of or refer patients for abortions, dispense abortion drugs, provide facilities for abortions, dispense emergency contraception except in cases of rape, contract with abortion providers or advertise or promote “…services for abortion or the prevention of conception.”
Violating the law could result in misdemeanor or felony charges, which could include up to five years of prison time, being forced to repay state funds, termination and being barred from future state employment.
The university cited the state’s No Public Funds for Abortion Act, which was enacted in May 2021 and prohibits state funds from being used to promote or perform abortions, and includes specific provisions stating no public school tuition fees can be used to pay for abortions or counsel in favor of them.
The guidance also said the school would not provide “standard birth control,” citing uncertainty around the parameters of a separate state law that prohibits anyone from advertising or providing notice of “any medicine or means for producing or facilitating a miscarriage or abortion, or for the prevention of conception.”
The laws cited in the university’s guidance are separate from an abortion ban in the state that took effect in August that outlaws nearly all abortions in the state except in the case of medical emergencies. The Biden administration sued Idaho over its ban and successfully restricted part of the law, requiring abortions to still be performed in medical emergencies that aren’t life-threatening.
Planned Parenthood reacted to the university’s move in a statement sent to NPI.
Statement from Rebecca Gibron, CEO of Planned Parenthood Great Northwest, Hawai’i, Alaska, Indiana, Kentucky
We always knew extremists wouldn’t stop at banning abortion.
The University of Idaho’s announcement is the canary in the coal mine, an early sign of the larger, coordinated effort to attack [pregnancy prevention] access. Across the country, we are seeing lawmakers and extremists saying the quiet part out loud, by eroding contraception access and even calling on the Supreme Court to overturn the constitutional right to [family planning].”
Here in Idaho, these attacks have already begun. Earlier this year, Idaho lawmakers said they’d consider banning IUDs and emergency contraception in the 2023 legislative session. And the same day that lawmakers voted to ban abortion, they also rejected a bill that would have made it easier for people in Idaho to access [contraceptives].
These attacks… are not theoretical. They are already happening. And the University of Idaho’s new policy is just the latest example of extremists and draconian laws threatening to strip us of all control over their reproductive healthcare.
Reproductive healthcare remains legal in Washington and Oregon, Idaho’s western neighbors, for now. Republicans like Lindsey Graham have proposed a federal ban on abortion care after fifteen weeks. Many ultra MAGA Republicans also enthusiastically support a federal ban on contraception.