The University of Idaho clarified Wednesday that no university policies have been changed or added relating to a state abortion law, and that students’ access to contraceptives remains the same.
In a statement sent to students and employees, the university’s president and provost responded to a memo the university’s Office of General Counsel sent last month that warned employees against promoting abortion or services for the “prevention of conception” and recommended limits on discussions of abortion in the classroom. The memo also recommended the university take a “conservative approach” and not provide standard birth control itself.
The note Wednesday from the university president said the memo “took on a life of its own” and spurred misinformation and confusion.
“The Idaho laws, brought to the forefront by the overturn of Roe v. Wade, are indeed complex, unclear and written to be punitive for state employees,” President Scott Green and Provost and Executive Vice President Torrey Lawrence wrote. “We cannot make any guarantees about how the state will choose to enforce them.”
It clarified the university has not changed or added any policies in response to a bill passed by the Idaho Legislature last year, which prohibits public funds from being used “in any way” to promote, provide, perform or induce an abortion.
The university has also not changed its academic freedom policy, Green and Lawrence wrote.
“The university supports faculty leading discussions on any related educational topic within the classroom,” they said.
Students can continue to access condoms in restroom dispensers and campus offices, and receive reproductive health care at its health clinics.
The university is developing an FAQ to provide “more nuanced guidance” on the state’s laws, the note said.
Idaho law bans abortion in most cases
The updated guidance clarifying the university’s stance comes over a month after a state law took effect that bans abortion in most cases.
Under that law, anyone who performs or attempts to perform an abortion will face a felony charge. Health care professionals who perform the procedure would have their licenses suspended. Exceptions include cases of incest or rape or if the procedure was “necessary to prevent the death” of the pregnant person.
In August, a federal judge also temporarily barred the state from enforcing the ban in emergency situations after the U.S. Department of Justice said it conflicts with the federal Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act.
The guidance sent last month from the university’s general counsel cited the law preventing public funds for abortion and a part of Idaho code from 1972. That statute says anyone who advertises “any medicine or means” or offers their services to facilitate an abortion or the “prevention of conception” is guilty of a felony.
The section does not apply to licensed physicians or licensed registered health care providers. That statute, the memo said, is “not a model of clarity.”
In a statement last month, the university said it follows all Idaho laws, and that the guidance was sent to employees to help them “understand the legal significance and possible actions” of laws passed by the Idaho Legislature.
“This is a challenging law for many and has real ramifications for individuals in that it calls for individual criminal prosecution,” spokesperson Jodi Walker said in an email to the Statesman.
The memo from the university spurred concern and outrage locally and nationally.
The White House issued a statement that said students’ lack of access to contraception is one result of “extreme and backwards” policies. Planned Parenthood called the university’s new guidance the latest example of “extremists and draconian laws threatening to strip us of all control over … reproductive health care.”