U of Idaho Advises Faculty of Legal Jeopardy for Discussing Abortion in ClassroomsBreaking News
tags: abortion, academic freedom
As abortion restrictions become law in states across the country, faculty members and staff in some of those states face increasing limits on what they can say about reproductive health. In some cases, the vagueness of the untested laws paired with the threat of felony prosecution have made scholars and even some students afraid to talk about what was only recently a constitutional right.
On Friday, the University of Idaho sent its employees guidance on what they can and cannot say about abortion under a statewide ban that went into effect in August. The restrictive guidance even ventures into the classroom.
In an email, the university’s general counsel told employees that Idaho may consider it a felony to perform an abortion, promote abortion, counsel people in favor of abortion, refer someone for abortion, provide facilities or training for performing abortions, contract with an abortion provider, or advertise services for abortion or “the prevention of conception.”
The university said that employees who interact with students should “proceed cautiously at any time that a discussion moves in the direction of reproductive health, including abortion.” In conversations with students about reproductive rights, university employees should say that they are prohibited from promoting abortion in any way, the email said. The earlier employees make that clear, the email specified, the better.
The guidance acknowledged that the Idaho law was “not a model of clarity,” particularly with regards to contraception. To be conservative, the general counsel’s email said, the university should not provide birth control.
The guidance said that University of Idaho employees may still direct students to sources of information outside the university or to another state, “where students can receive a discussion of all aspects of the topic and be presented with all alternatives legally available to them.” But in doing so, “university employees must remain neutral on the subject of abortion.” (There is a Planned Parenthood facility less than 10 miles from the University of Idaho in Pullman, Wash.)
The university can also provide condoms, so long as they are “for the purpose of helping prevent the spread of STDs” and not for birth control. Employees may have classroom discussions “on topics related to abortion or contraception,” but they must be “limited to discussions and topics relevant to the class subject.” Instructors must remain “neutral” on the topic of abortion in class or risk prosecution, the email said.
University of Idaho faculty members expressed deep concern about the guidance and what it meant about conversations they might have with their students about abortion.
“It’s making us accomplices to allowing the breaching of the divide between religion and state,” said Leontina Hormel, a sociology professor at the University of Idaho. She said the new rules run counter to her obligation to help students think critically about important topics.