Idaho universities ban abortion and contraceptive referral

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Universities in Idaho are warning staff members not to refer students to abortion providers, and at least one public university is banning employees from telling students how to get birth control. emergency or birth control as well. It’s the latest restriction in a state that already has some of the toughest abortion laws in the country.

“This is going to have a very broad impact,” said Mike Satz, attorney and former faculty member and acting dean of the University of Idaho School of Law. “It’s going to have a very strong chilling effect on free speech and it’s going to scare people away. I’m afraid it scares people away from going to school here or sending their children to schools in Idaho.

The ban on referring students to abortion providers or “promoting” abortion in any way stems from the “No Public Abortion Funds Act,” a law passed by the Republican-led legislature in Idaho in 2021. Boise State University, like the University of Idaho, told faculty members in a newsletter earlier this month that they could face felony charges for breaking the law. Idaho State University did not respond to telephone messages from The Associated Press asking if it had issued similar guidelines.

The law also prohibits staff members and school health clinics from distributing or telling students where to get emergency contraception, such as the Plan B pill, except in cases of rape. Emergency contraception drugs prevent pregnancy from occurring and do not work in cases where a person is already pregnant.

The University of Idaho guidelines released Friday go even further, also warning employees of a law written in 1867, 23 years before Idaho became a state. This law prohibits the distribution or “advertising” of abortion and birth control services, leading Unemployment Insurance to advise that condoms only be distributed to prevent sexually transmitted diseases, but not to prevent the pregnancy.

It’s not yet clear how the law prohibiting the “advertising or promotion” of abortion and birth control services might impact students or other state employees who may use state-owned computers. state or wireless networks to share information on how to access reproductive health care on Instagram or other social media sites. Scott Graf, spokesman for Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden, said his office plans to discuss advice given to college staff and abortion laws during an internal call Tuesday morning.

Jodi Walker, a spokeswoman for the University of Idaho, said the university follows all laws and said UI managers are “still working out some details.”

“This is a difficult law for many and has real ramifications for individuals in that it calls for individual criminal prosecutions,” she said of the public funds law. “The article does not specify what is meant by promoting abortion, however, it is clear that university employees are paid with public funds. Employees who engage in their work in a way that promotes abortion could be seen as promoting abortion.

Abortion can still be discussed as a political issue in classrooms, Walker said, but the university recommends that classroom staff “remain neutral or risk violating this law.”

“We support our students and employees and academic freedom, but understand the need to follow the laws established by our state,” she said.

But that could be nearly impossible, Satz said. The University of Idaho and Boise State University both rely on grants to fund important research and academic projects, and the federal government is a major source of these grants. The federal government also offers abortions through the Veterans Administration, Satz noted, and the “No Public Abortion Funds Act” prohibits the state from contracting with abortion providers.

Idaho lawmakers could fine-tune laws to ensure they don’t violate 1st Amendment free speech rights or result in significant funding losses, but the state’s deeply conservative legislature is not expected to meet again until January.

Boise State’s notice to employees noted that abortion-inducing drugs or procedures may still be prescribed if used to remove a dead fetus caused by spontaneous abortion, to treat an ectopic pregnancy, or to ” save the life or preserve the health of the unborn child”. .” But some of those scenarios are gray areas under other state laws criminalizing abortions, including one targeted in a federal lawsuit by the US Department of Justice against the state of Idaho.

Idaho isn’t the only state where employees have been warned not to give abortion counseling. Over the summer, Oklahoma City librarians were cautioned against using the word “abortion,” though that changed after the city’s library team revised the laws. Still, social workers, clergy and others have expressed concerns in Oklahoma about facing criminal or civil liability simply for discussing abortions.