University of Idaho’s legal counsel told faculty members that if they provide birth control (including condoms) to students or even mention abortion in certain contexts, or they could be fired for violating the state’s new anti-abortion law. If faculty members do provide condoms, per the guidance, it must be “for the purpose of helping prevent the spread of STDs but not for purposes of birth control.”
“University of Idaho is committed to operating within the confines of laws of the state of Idaho which restrict expenditures of funds and activities of university employees in the areas of abortion and contraception,” the email to faculty read.
The long list of behaviors faculty members were told to avoid applies “during all times that university employees are performing their jobs.” They’re not to “refer for abortion,” “provide or perform an abortion,” “provide facilities for an abortion or for training to provide or perform an abortion,” “dispense drugs classified as emergency contraception by the FDA” (except in “the case of rape,” per state law), or “advertise or offer abortion services and birth control,” among many other do-nots.
“While the topic of abortion (including facilitating a miscarriage) are [sic] addressed under the discussion above, the scope of what is meant by ‘prevention of conception’ and to have ‘offered services by notice, advertisement, or otherwise…’ is unclear and untested in the courts,” the email said. “Since violation is considered a felony, we are advising a conservative approach here, that the university not provide standard birth control itself.” In other words, because the state’s near-total abortion ban is so new, legally, it’s all uncharted territory. Because it’s not clear what will or won’t land someone in prison, the university’s general counsel appears to have advised faculty to essentially not touch the topic of reproductive health at all.
As for what is permissible, the email states that faculty members can “direct students to sources of information outside university” and “have classroom discussions on topics related to abortion or contraception limited to discussions and topics relevant to the class subject and instructor neutrality.” This, of course, is hardly generous—for all conservatives’ self-identification as free speech champions, this guidance stemming from the state’s abortion ban essentially bars instructors from even expressing support for abortion rights. “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,” the email stated.
Reached for comment, the school just forwarded us the guidance they sent to faculty. It’s not clear the extent that this will be enforced by the university, but it will inevitably chill possibly life-saving speech about abortion and reproductive health on-campus.
The email guidance sent to faculty comes as Republicans in South Carolina’s state legislature are trying to pass a bill to criminalize even sharing information about self-managed abortion with medication. As for the University of Idaho’s warnings about birth control, the fall of Roe v. Wade has led many Republicans—including party leaders—to call for action against contraception. As Jezebel has previously reported, abortion bans that support the bogus idea that life begins at conception can lead to a host of other things being banned, ranging from birth control and plan B to in vitro fertilization.
The chilling of speech about abortion and contraception is just one of seemingly endless ripple effects that the fall of Roe has unleashed on the health system. Because of the high stakes and criminally broad, ambiguous nature of abortion bans, all kinds of possibly miscarriage-inducing medications are being pushed out of reach; the Kansas City Health System briefly stopped providing free plan B to rape victims. Amid all of this, in states where “aiding and abetting” abortion is also prohibited, abortion funds and advocates are also trying to piece together what they can and can’t do. It’s all a mess.
Unplanned pregnancy could have disastrous impacts for young people at such a formative time in their lives as their college years. It’s devastating that because of the state’s abortion ban, students won’t be able to turn to trusted faculty members for help. We’ll likely see other universities in abortion-hostile states issue similar guidance.