Idaho colleges don’t have much room to maneuver in a post-Roe climate
Colleges and universities across the country are changing their health policies in the face of the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn them Roe v. calfthe 1973 ruling that legalized abortion in the United States. Some states require schools to provide abortion pills, and others are expanding access to emergency contraception.
But Idaho’s colleges and universities don’t have much freedom of movement.
That’s because the 2021 Idaho Legislature made it illegal for public colleges and universities to distribute emergency contraceptives prevented by law the use of public funds for “abortion-related activities”. The legislation applies to all public schools in Idaho, from major universities to two-year community colleges.
The law also made it illegal for public schools to refer students to abortion providers.
Often referred to as the “morning after pill,” emergency contraception is an over-the-counter medication used to prevent pregnancy within 72 to 120 hours of unprotected sex. Common brand names are Plan B and Ella.
The drug does not cause an abortion. Instead, it can prevent the release of an egg, prevent fertilization of a previously released egg, or prevent a fertilized egg from attaching to the uterus.
The Idaho Legislature passed the law before the Supreme Court’s June 24 decision to overturn it Roe, which sparked another Idaho statute that banned abortion in nearly all cases. The ban is set to come into effect on August 25.
Some are concerned that the abortion ban, coupled with limited access to on-campus emergency contraception, will lead to higher rates of unplanned pregnancies among college students — something they see as a negative impact.
“Especially when it comes to students from out of state, they may not be aware of any of the resources in the area,” said Zoey Bevington, a Boise State graduate student who attended a pro-choice rally in Boise. “They might just be limited to university because of their health resources. If they don’t get it there, they could… have an unwanted pregnancy, which they don’t want.”
But lawmakers responsible for the law say it should be a reprieve for taxpayers, not an attack on birth control.
“These are things that I didn’t think taxpayers should be paying for,” said Assemblyman Bruce Skaug, a backer of the bill. “It has nothing to do with the fact that it’s contraception … it’s just for taxpayers.”
Skaug added that he doesn’t think the law will have any additional impact on college students when combined with a statewide ban on abortion.
Idaho Public Universities say not much will change after the SCOTUS decision.
Idaho State University’s Stuart Summers says the school will provide the same services it has since the Idaho law change in 2021. Lisa Salsbury, director of the Women’s Center at the University of Idaho, says the issue is “very complicated,” but the center is working on a plan to support students as they return to campus. Boise State did not respond to comment.
According to the latest data released by the Idaho Department of Health and Human Services, the largest proportion (41.5%) of abortions nationwide in 2020 were performed by people ages 18 to 24. Another 25.2% were people aged 25 to 29 years. Most college students fall into these age groups.
This data was collected in 2020, so it’s unclear whether or not the 2021 legislation has so far impacted abortion rates among college-age individuals.
A private university offers emergency contraception
The College of Idaho at Caldwell is probably the only higher education institution in Idaho that offers emergency contraception. The college is exempt from the 2021 restrictions as it is privately funded.
Other private colleges — Brigham Young University Idaho and Lewis and Clark State College — do not offer emergency contraception for reasons unrelated to legislation. Idaho’s fourth private school, Northwest Nazarene University, declined to comment.
C-of-I students can access the medication through the college health center after meeting with an on-campus doctor. Contraception is provided to students free of charge.
“It’s legal, and it’s a safe form of reproductive health,” said Paul Bennion, dean of students at the C of I. In consultation with the medical staff, let students make the decisions that are in their best interests.”
C of I also offers free condoms, STD tests and pregnancy tests. The college doesn’t track who uses the resources and how often — something that’s intentional, Bennion said.
When students need other services, such as IUD insertion or birth control, the health center refers them to community medical providers.
C of I student Lily Archuleta has worked at the Health Center and will be entering the Advocates program this year to act as a confidential resource for students experiencing mental health crises or cases of sexual assault and abuse.
Through her college work, Archuleta has helped at least one student get Plan B through the health center this summer.
“College is really tough,” Archuleta said. “It’s really scary to think that maybe something is completely affecting your ability to finish school. And if there’s anything a college can do to make sure that doesn’t happen and allow its students to finish their four years, then I think it’s really important.”
Archuleta says her own experience as the daughter of a mother who had an unplanned pregnancy gives her a better understanding of the complications that can arise.
“You pay a lot of money to be[in college],” she said. “There are many social expectations as well as the academic expectations. And I think an unplanned pregnancy would literally turn everything upside down.”
The senior has not heard a campus pushback against the resource.
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