Separated by just 8 miles, Washington State University and the University of Idaho remain vastly different places. Now in the post-Roe v. Wade era, the differences are more apparent than ever.
This week, the University of Idaho warned faculty and staff that counseling students about abortion or contraception could lead to termination or result in a felony charge. The warning was delivered in a controversial memo that prompted a response from the White House. Meanwhile, across the state line, WSU’s student government announced funding for a contraceptive vending machine that will dispense pregnancy tests, condoms and Plan B, the so-called “morning-after” pill.
“WSU is part of a state system in (Washington) and Idaho is part of a state system in a state that is much more conservative,” said Mike Satz, former law professor and associate dean at the University of Idaho. “The workplace environment is very different for both schools and what it’s like to be a student is very different for both schools.”
The differences have led to confusion and frustration among students and faculty, according to multiple interviews and media coverage.
“It feels awful that my body is having to be used in a political fight,” said Alexandria Miller, a student at the University of Idaho.
Miller worries that the women’s health center on the UI campus will be restricted in the help they can offer students in need of contraceptives and counsel around pregnancy. The Idaho law mentioned in the memo also states that the university cannot dispense any emergency contraception except in the case of rape.
As of now, it is safe for Idahoans to travel to Washington to use resources, but that could change, Satz said.
“There are certain members of the legislature that have clearly shown their intent to want to control women’s choices, no matter where they are,” Satz said. “That is something that advocates for women’s health are looking at in Idaho because we’re very concerned about that.”
At WSU, a different political landscape
WSU’s Director of University Affairs Nikolai Sublett has been spearheading a way to bring an emergency contraceptive vending machine to WSU at a reasonable price. His inspiration came from an Instagram post.
Students were asking where to get Plan B and responses poured in saying that even though Plan B is accessible at places like Safeway, Walmart and Planned Parenthood, they are either sold out or are too far away from campus to be readily available, Sublett said.
Funding for the machine itself, which costs about $4,000, is coming from the budget of the Associated Students of WSU, while funding for the actual products will come from the student government’s Coug Health Fund, he said.
Sublett said emergency contraceptives will be priced at $15 a pill, $35 less than the usual name-brand price.
Excluding the $15 fee for the pill, bringing the vending machine to WSU will be no additional cost to students, he said. Sublett made a purchase request for the emergency contraceptives vending machine on Sept. 19 and hopes to get it ordered within the next two weeks, he said.
At least 22 universities around the country have vending machines for emergency contraceptives on their campuses, with at least 12 more in the works, according to an article from Bloomberg.
Safe sex supplies such as condoms, dental dams and lube are easily accessible on campus at WSU’s Women’s Center and the university’s Gender Identity/Expression and Sexual Orientation Resource Center, according to Amy Sharp, director of WSU Women’s Center.
Sharp said the only option for emergency contraception on campus costs $25 from the Cougar Health Services pharmacy, Sharp said.
“It just adds more accessibility for our students,” Sharp said.
Idaho employees unwilling to speak
Until recently, condoms have been made available on campus to prevent sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancy. Now, they are only advertised to prevent sexually transmitted diseases, Miller said.
“It’s almost considered offensive to talk about the facts of what a condom is used for,” she said.
In media reports, University of Idaho faculty and staff are requesting anonymity when they discuss the topic. The memo urged staff and faculty to refrain from speaking on these issues until they know more.
The fact that professors are asking for anonymity in interviews speaks to a toxic environment in which faculty and staff are afraid to speak, Satz said. He worries the memo could also damage faculty-student conversations for students seeking resources.
“I cannot tell you how many times as a faculty member I’ve had students come with really serious personal problems, and they came to me in my case, because I was one of the few faculty members of color on campus and they knew that they could trust me,” he said. “In this case, I think it’s going to be very damaging to those kinds of situations.”
Satz, who left the University of Idaho in 2020 and has co-founded the Idaho 97 Project, which advocates for sensible public health measures and an end to hate, intimidation and disinformation, has been outspoken on the issue. This week, he posted a Tweet noting the university memo and the Idaho law cite language that was originally written in 1887 – when Idaho was still a territory.
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