U of I: Anti-abortion laws are ‘written to be punitive for state employees’

Nearly two weeks after a University of Idaho memo cautioned employees against counseling students on abortion, administrators tried to defuse the controversy Wednesday.

But in a statement, university President C. Scott Green and Provost Torrey Lawrence again suggested U of I employees could be prosecuted for advocating abortion, or referring a student to an abortion provider.

“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,” they wrote. “We cannot make any guarantees about how the state will choose to enforce them.”

The statement came as Idaho’s anti-abortion laws come under legal scrutiny — and face national backlash.

The Idaho Supreme Court is convening Thursday morning to hear arguments on three lawsuits challenging the anti-abortion laws. (Details from Betsy Russell of the Idaho Press.)

Meanwhile, President Biden singled out the U of I’s initial Sept. 23 memo, during a Tuesday meeting of the White House Reproductive Rights Task Force. “Folks, what century are we in?” (Details from Jacob Fischler of the Idaho Capital Sun.)

In Wednesday’s memo, Green and Lawrence said the U of I has changed no policies in response to Idaho’s anti-abortion law. Students still have access to contraceptives, and the university’s academic freedom policy remains unchanged. And they decried the misinformation surrounding the original memo — blaming some of the confusion on people outside the university who sought to “advance their own political agendas.”

Here is the statement, in full:

On September 23 you received a memo titled “Guidance on Abortion Laws” from U of I’s Office of General Counsel. The memo quickly took on a life of its own with misinformation, confusion and emotion leading the conversation. This included those outside our university using this occasion to advance their own political agendas. This is, without a doubt, a divisive and complicated topic.

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. We cannot make any guarantees about how the state will choose to enforce them. But, to clarify where the university stands, please understand:

  1. No university policies have been added or changed as a result of the No Public Funds for Abortion Act passed by the Idaho legislature.
  2. Penalties of the law are criminal in nature. The university does not impose criminal charges nor conduct criminal investigations.
  3. There are no changes to our academic freedom policy. The university supports faculty leading discussions on any related educational topic within the classroom.  
  4. There is no change to student access to contraceptives. Condoms continue to be available in restroom dispensers and campus offices. The Vandal Health Clinic and its sister clinics operated by Gritman Medical Center will continue to meet the reproductive health needs of all students and employees. 

More nuanced guidance in the form of an FAQ is being developed to help you understand our state’s laws.

As Vandals, we remain united in our mission of providing access to an affordable education, illuminating and elevating our students and conducting research that matters to Idaho industry. That work does not end when we face challenges. Let’s not forget who we are. The Vandal family is resilient, supportive and kind to one another.

Go Vandals!

 

Kevin Richert

About Kevin Richert

Senior reporter and blogger Kevin Richert specializes in education politics and education policy. He has more than 30 years of experience in Idaho journalism. He is a frequent guest on KIVI 6 On Your Side; "Idaho Reports" on Idaho Public Television; and "Idaho Matters" on Boise State Public Radio. Follow Kevin on Twitter: @KevinRichert. He can be reached at [email protected]

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