‘It’s not safe’: New University of Idaho policy limits employees from reproductive discussion

MOSCOW, Idaho — University of Idaho employees now face the risk of losing their job and possible jail time if they promote, advertise, and even give abortion referrals on the clock.  The new policy also prohibits employees from giving out what the FDA deems as “emergency contraception,” with the exception of rape.

The university’s council sent out a memo to employees to warn them about the new Idaho state law that was passed by the Legislature in 2021. The No Public Funds for Abortion Act prohibits referring or promoting abortion to students.

The university wants employees to understand how the law now reads and what consequences they could face if violated.

“I feel like people preach abstinence when that doesn’t really work and people don’t do that and saying that isn’t going to stop people from doing it. It just makes it more unsafe,” student Elise Vonbargen said.

University of Idaho says the law doesn’t specify what “promoting abortion” is, but it’s clear employees are paid with public funds.

As these laws go too far for some people on campus, an employee we spoke to says she’ll be sure to follow the rules.

“I will do what I’m told. I kind of like my job and don’t want to lose it. I think if that’s what the law is we need to abide by the law,” she said.

“I think that’s pretty absurd to do that on a college campus and I think it’s not safe,” said student Allison Mahieu.

Certain activities are still allowed with limitations. This includes directing students to sources of information outside the university and having classroom discussions on abortion-related topics, and topics relevant to the class subject as long at the professor remains neutral.

The university can provide condoms but they can’t be used as a form of birth control, but only to prevent sexually transmitted disease.

The university says birth control can be provided by its licensed physicians, and their health care workers at the student health locations run by Moscow Family Medicine.

The university says in this new an evolving legal landscape, its unsure how these new laws will be enforced.

The university issued the following statement on the new policy:

“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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