In support of the state’s near-total ban on abortion, which took effect in August, the University of Idaho sent a memo to staff last week warning employees not to provide birth control pills or reproductive health services. According to the memo, shared by the Idaho Press, under Idaho’s new law, staff cannot provide emergency contraception except in the case of rape.
Staff was advised against providing contraception or condoms for the purpose of preventing pregnancy and told they would only be able to provide them “for the purpose of helping prevent the spread of STDs but not for purposes of birth control.”
“Since violation is considered a felony, we are advising a conservative approach here,” the memo read, noting that the law on birth control and “prevention of conception” is unclear.
In addition to being told they could not provide protection, university staff were warned against referring or providing abortions. But that's not all, staff was also told not to provide reproductive health counseling services and limit discussion about abortion in the classroom.
“Proceed cautiously at any time that a discussion moves in the direction of reproductive health,” the memo read.
It continued its warning with: “Academic freedom is not a defense to violation of law, and faculty or others in charge of classroom topics and discussion must themselves remain neutral on the topic and cannot conduct or engage in discussions in violation of these prohibitions without risking prosecution.”
According to the memo, as per the No Public Funds for Abortion Act staff could face felony convictions and lose their state employment for any violations listed. The 2021 law prevents state officials and employees from counseling in favor of abortions, the Idaho Capital Sun reported.
Idaho’s trigger ban took effect on Aug. 25 following a judge’s approval, about two months after the Supreme Court reversed Roe v. Wade. According to The Washington Post, it was the result of a law passed by state lawmakers in 2020, that bans abortions at any time after conception, except in instances where the pregnant person’s life is at risk or in cases of rape or incest— as long as the crime was reported to law enforcement.
According to the Associated Press, the ban makes providing abortions in any “clinically diagnosable pregnancy” a felony punishable by up to five years in prison. The state’s ban describes abortion as “intentionally [killing] an unborn human being.”
While the memo has come under criticism for its warning to staff, a spokesperson for the University of Idaho, Jodi Walker defended it in a statement to the Idaho Capital Sun, claiming that the university follows all laws and that the guidance is meant to help employees understand the legal significance and possible ramifications of the abortion law.
“This is a challenging law for many and has real ramifications for individuals in that it calls for individual criminal prosecution,” Walker said. “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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