University of Idaho warns employees against providing reproductive health counseling
In an email titled “Guidance on Abortion Laws,” the University of Idaho General Counsel advised against faculty providing abortion guidance, warning that violation of the state’s abortion law may lead to loss of employment.
Idaho’s abortion law, which went into effect August 25, restricts all abortions unless it is necessary to save the life of the mother or in cases of rape or incest. Violators of the law may face 2-5 years in prison and suspension of their professional licensure. The law also states that those who assist in illegal abortions will face at least six-month sentence for their first offense.
In the executive summary from the email, it states that the law prohibits additional assistance like: promoting abortion, counseling in favor of an abortion, advertising and promoting abortion services for the prevention of conception, and dispensing drugs classified as emergency contraception. Most controversially, the university also advises against providing condoms “for the purpose of helping prevent the spread of STDs and not for purposes of birth control.”
“In this new and evolving legal landscape, how these laws will be enforced remains unclear,” the email states. “The university and its employees should be aware of the potential risks and penalties associated with conduct that may be perceived to violate the laws.”
This guidance establishes an anti-risk approach to the topic of abortion due to the states “No Public Funds For Abortion Act,” passed in 2021.
“This is going to have a very broad impact. It’s going to have a very strong, chilling effect on free speech,” University of Idaho’s College of Law’s Interim Dean Mike Satz stated.
UAFS has not taken an official stance in response to Arkansas’ similar trigger law. Though in an email sent on June 24, Chancellor Riley emphasized a need to “move forward with respect and compassion and to approach this and all potentially divisive issues…”
The Lions’ Chronicle reached out to Coordinator of the UAFS Gender and Intersectional Feminism (GIF) Committee, Dr. Svetla Dimitrova, for insight on how this change might impact UAFS’ response to the increasing pressure on educators.
“We (the GIF committee) have been proactive in asking the administration to affirm UAFS’ commitment to academic freedom including clarifying for students that faculty are entitled to teach controversial matters that relate to their subject matter such as the recent Supreme Court Dobbs decision,” Dr. Dimitrova stated in response to the likelihood of UAFS adopting a similar risk-deferred approach to the topic of abortion.
At the time of the Dobbs decision, the GIF Committee held an emergency meeting wherein the decision was made to not issue a formal statement, instead focusing on supporting “meaningful action to address the implications of this decision on our campus community,” Dimitrova stated
As a result of this decision, GIF has dedicated resources toward relevant informational events, such as one held on September 28 titled “Abortion: How to Engage Students in Meaningful Conversations about Controversial Topics,” which Dimitrova hosted.
Dimitrova suggests that language similar to section U.6 of the UAFS Employee Handbook should be added to the Student Handbook to aid in preparing students for engagement of controversial topics like this.