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University of Idaho may stop providing birth control under state's abortion law

Concerns surrounding threats of felony charges for providers under Idaho state laws regarding abortion motivated the school's decision.

MOSCOW, Idaho — The University of Idaho sent a letter to employees giving guidance on the state's abortion law and how the school will handle birth control services on campus.

According to the university, concerns surrounding threats of felony charges for providers under Idaho state laws following the overturning of Roe v. Wade motivated their decision.

Idaho's trigger law went into effect on Aug. 25, 2022. The law bans abortions at any time after conception, with exceptions for rape, incest and to save the life of the pregnant person. In cases of rape, the pregnant person has to have reported the crime to law enforcement.

In a letter to U of I employees, the university said all employees are prohibited by law from "using or providing institution funds or facilities" while working for any of the following reasons:

  • Promoting abortion
  • Providing or performing an abortion
  • Counseling in favor of abortion
  • Referring for abortion
  • Providing facilities for an abortion or for training to provide or perform an abortion
  • Dispensing drugs classified as emergency contraception (such as Plan B) except in the case of rape
  • Contracting with abortion providers
  • Advertising or promoting services for abortion or for the prevention of conception

The university said individuals convicted of violating these laws could face loss of state employment, a permanent bar from state employment, mandatory reimbursement of funds used in violation of the law and/or a misdemeanor or felony.

The university also said that some of the following activities are permitted on campus with certain limitations:

  • Directing students to sources of information outside the university
  • Having classroom discussions on topics related to abortion when limited to discussions and topics relevant to the class subject and instructor neutrality in the discussion

According to the letter, counseling on birth control and providing the means for birth control can be done through licensed doctors and health care workers at Student Health locations run by Moscow Family Medicine, the university's student health provider. It goes on to say the university can provide condoms, but only for the purpose of helping prevent the spread of STDs but not for purposes of birth control. 

At this time, U of I employees are working with the Office of the General Counsel to gather questions and prepare answers, which will be posted as an ongoing Q&A.

"In addition, we will continue to monitor application of the laws statewide and apprise the university of any changes to this guidance accordingly," the university said in its letter.

Planned Parenthood Great Northwest, Hawai‘i, Alaska, Indiana, Kentucky CEO Rebecca Gibron condemned the university's policy in a statement:

“We always knew extremists wouldn’t stop at banning abortion; they’d target birth control next. The University of Idaho’s announcement is the canary in the coal mine, an early sign of the larger, coordinated effort to attack birth control 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 birth control. 

 “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 birth control. 

 “These attacks on birth control 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 health care.”

The University of Idaho sent KREM 2 the following statement on their decision:

The University of Idaho follows all laws. This is a challenging law for many and has real ramifications for individuals in that it calls for individual criminal prosecution. This guidance was sent to help our employees understand the legal significance and possible actions of this new law passed by the Idaho Legislature. The law (IC §18-8705) states that no public funds “shall be used in any way to … promote abortion”. The section does not specify what is meant by promoting abortion, however, it is clear that university employees are paid with public funds. Employees engaging in their course of work in a manner that favors abortion could be deemed as promoting abortion. While abortion can be discussed as a policy issue in the classroom, we highly recommend employees in charge of the classroom remain neutral or risk violating this law. We support our students and employees, as well as academic freedom, but understand the need to work within the laws set out by our state.  

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