White House calls Idaho abortion laws ‘extreme and backwards’ in response to university memo

White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre issued a statement Tuesday calling Idaho’s abortion laws “extreme and backwards” in response to a memo issued by the University of Idaho cautioning employees not to provide reproductive health counseling to students, including abortion, or risk losing their jobs or face criminal prosecution.

“To be clear, nothing under Idaho law justifies the university’s decision to deny students access to contraception. But the situation in Idaho speaks to the unacceptable consequences of extreme abortion bans,” Jean-Pierre said in the statement. “The overwhelming majority of Americans believe in the right to birth control, as well as the right to abortion, without government interference.”

The university’s general counsel sent the memo to all employees on Friday, advising that Idaho law prohibits university employees from promoting, counseling or referring someone for an abortion, and prohibits the institution from dispensing drugs classified as emergency contraception except in cases of rape. The memo was intended to help UI staff understand the complexity of a law passed in the 2021 session of the Idaho Legislature dubbed the No Public Funds for Abortion Act. The University of Idaho and other public schools across Idaho are subject to the law since they are state-funded institutions.

University of Idaho spokesperson Jodi Walker said the memo was intended to help employees understand the legal significance and possible ramifications of the law, which includes individual criminal prosecution.

“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,” Walker said in an email to the Sun. “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.”

White House official: U.S. Supreme Court decision created a runway for birth control bans

University officials were told in the guidance not to dispense birth control unless it comes from student health facilities that are contracted through Moscow Family Health, and not to provide condoms except to prevent the spread of sexually transmitted diseases.

An official with President Joe Biden’s administration told the Idaho Capital Sun the university’s memo is indicative of a larger trend across the country of Republican officials expressing support for contraception bans, including banning Plan B.

At the time the bill passed the Idaho Legislature, one of the state’s leading anti-abortion organizations — the Idaho Family Policy Center — supported it as a way to ensure “abortion providers do not have unfettered access to students at public schools, colleges and universities,” according to a statement from 2021.

“Our hard-earned tax dollars should never be spent on promoting abortion,” said Idaho Family Policy Center President Blaine Conzatti in a statement at the time. “(The act) will help create a culture of life in Idaho by making sure taxpayers do not subsidize something as morally problematic as abortion.”

Conzatti told the Capital Sun in July that he supports banning Plan B and other types of emergency contraception as well as IUDs, because he said anything that can end life after conception is problematic.

The White House official said the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade in June paved the way for more restrictions.

“We’re seeing similar efforts pop up in various states across the country, and it’s part of a very disturbing trend that the Supreme Court created a runway for, and Republican officials are taking advantage of to go even further than some of the laws we’ve already seen,” the official said.

The official pointed people concerned about the issue to a website launched by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services summarizing reproductive rights across the country with links to resources and updated information.

“It’s important (for people) to identify medical professionals that have all the information about their reproductive rights and reproductive choices,” the official said.

 

Idaho Capital Sun is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Idaho Capital Sun maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Christina Lords for questions: [email protected]. Follow Idaho Capital Sun on Facebook and Twitter.

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