Idaho college says staff could face felony for 'promoting' abortion, providing birth control

Universities in Idaho are warning employees not to refer students to abortion services, with at least one university urging staff not to tell students how to get birth control or emergency contraception.

The University of Idaho’s general counsel sent a memo to employees on Friday saying that, while university employees are performing their jobs, state law bars them from taking action for “promoting” abortion, providing abortions, giving counseling for having an abortion, dispensing emergency contraception except in the case of sexual assault and more.

The memo, obtained by USA TODAY, also says the university should not provide standard birth control, though it may provide condoms to help prevent the spread of STDs.

Students can still access counseling on birth control through the school’s student health locations, according to the memo. The student health services are run by Moscow Family Medicine, part of a medical network.

The document warns that people convicted of violating state laws on abortion could face misdemeanor or felony charges, being banned from future state employment and more.

Boise State University, another Idaho university, has also told faculty members that they could face felony charges for violating state law.

The law bars school-based health clinics from giving or telling students where to get emergency contraception, like the Plan B pill.

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The University of Idaho in a statement to USA TODAY said "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 statement appeared to reference the "No Public Funds for Abortion Act," which Idaho's legislature passed last year.

"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," the statement added.

The Supreme Court earlier this year overturned Roe v. Wade, the landmark decision that protected the right to an abortion across the country. Idaho law bars abortion except in limited circumstances.

Abortion rights groups quickly condemned the University of Idaho’s guidance. Rebecca Gibron, CEO of Planned Parenthood Great Northwest, Hawai’i, Alaska, Indiana, Kentucky, said in a statement that “The University of Idaho’s announcement is the canary in the coal mine, an early sign of the larger, coordinated effort to attack birth control access.”

But Kristan Hawkins, president of Students for Life of America, also told the Washington Post that the group is not calling for birth control to be restricted on college campuses.

The University of Idaho also drew attention from the White House, with press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre criticizing the move on Tuesday.

The University of Idaho also drew criticism from free speech groups. The Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression issued a letter to C. Scott Green, the president of the University of Idaho, saying the "mandate imposes a viewpoint-discriminatory limitation on academic speech and instruction incompatible with the (university’s) legal obligations under the First Amendment and must by withdrawn.”

Idaho university says it can't give birth control, 'promote' abortion