Healthcare Advocates Target Idaho College Town Over Abortion, Birth Control Restrictions

Moscow, home of the University of Idaho, is the latest post-Roe battleground after the state passed laws restricting access to — and even discussion of — reproductive healthcare.

Published October 21, 2022

Edited by Darlene Earnest
Healthcare Advocates Target Idaho College Town Over Abortion, Birth Control Restrictions
Photo by Mayday Health

  • After the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, Idaho enacted abortion bans and anti-contraception laws.
  • The University of Idaho recently released new guidance limiting access to and discussion of reproductive healthcare based on those laws.
  • Digital healthcare providers and abortion advocates are skirting those laws with outreach efforts and direct-to-consumer pharmacies.

They don't want you to know this: You can still get abortion pills by mail.

That was one message on a giant, digital billboard driven around the University of Idaho's Moscow campus Oct. 1 as students and fans gathered for a home football game. Another billboard showed a picture of Russian President Vladimir Putin and read, Moscow: It's a slippery slope.

The billboards operated by health-education nonprofit Mayday Health were meant for students who may soon find themselves unable to discuss, let alone access, reproductive healthcare on campus.

After the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in June, Idaho legislators moved aggressively to restrict reproductive healthcare access and education.

As a result, University of Idaho employees are not allowed to promote or advertise abortion or services that prevent conception, according to a memo by the University of Idaho's general counsel obtained by Boise State Public Radio on Sept. 26.

That's unacceptable, reproductive healthcare advocates told BestColleges.

We did the mobile digital truck around the University of Idaho. We drove around the campus; we made sure that we drove it around the football game so that people who were going around the stadium could see it, Kaori Sueyoshi, head of strategy at Mayday Health, told BestColleges.

We wanted to make sure that people, despite all these attempts to chill their speech and ability to learn about safe options, could continue to learn about [birth control and abortion].

When leaders at Favor, an online birth control provider for women and people who menstruate, heard the University of Idaho's position, the company began outreach to Moscow-area health centers to help them communicate to patients that access to birth control is as easy as visiting a website.

University officials have taken a law and interpreted it in a way that means that they don't think certain people should be accessing birth control at all, or at no cost, Stephanie Swartz, Favor's senior director of policy and public affairs, told BestColleges.

Idaho's draconian laws haven't just caught the attention of healthcare advocates — the White House also took notice.

Folks, what century are we in? What are we doing? I respect everyone's view on this … personal decisions they make. But, my Lord, we're talking about contraception here. It shouldn't be that controversial, President Joe Biden said about Idaho during a meeting of the White House Task Force on Reproductive Healthcare Access. This is what it looks like when you start to take away the right of privacy.

The University of Idaho Gets Post-Roe Reality Check

The restrictions on academic freedoms outlined in the University of Idaho memo start with an old law.

After the Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade, a 1972 Idaho law went into effect that makes it a felony for nonlicensed physicians and healthcare providers to advertise medicine that facilitates abortion or prevention of conception.

That law combined with Idaho's 2020 trigger ban on abortion, which was allowed to go into effect Aug. 25, and its 2021 No Public Funds for Abortion Act convinced the university's legal team to take a conservative approach to compliance, according to reporting by The Argonaut, an independent student newspaper.

The memo written by the University of Idaho's general counsel interprets state laws as prohibiting the use of public funds and facilities to promote abortion, provide an abortion, counsel in favor of abortion, or contract with abortion providers.

The memo likewise interprets state laws as not allowing the school to provide any contraceptives, including birth control and emergency contraception pills, to students. It notes, however, that the university would be permitted to provide condoms if they are used for the purpose of helping prevent the spread of STDs and not for purposes of birth control.

Faculty would be allowed to include topics related to abortion in their classrooms, as long as the instructor remained neutral about the topic in the discussion, according to the email.

If university employees violate the new laws, including making non-neutral statements in the classroom, they could face felony conviction, termination, or a permanent ban on future state employment, the general counsel warned.

The University of Idaho is committed to operating within the confines of laws of the state of Idaho which restrict expenditures of funds and activities of university employees in the areas of abortion and contraception, the email read.

... Accordingly, the university and its employees should be aware of the potential risks and penalties associated with conduct that may be perceived to violate the laws.

"Wiping Out" Barriers to Abortion Care, Birth Control

The reproductive healthcare advocates at Mayday Health and Favor are working in Moscow to let University of Idaho students know that they can still get the abortion pill and birth control.

The abortion pill is safe and effective and it's FDA approved for use in all 50 states, Mayday Health's Sueyoshi said. That's a message that's being silenced right now. We want to make sure anyone in the country knows about it.

The nonprofit specializes in targeted reproductive health education campaigns, working across media platforms to provide information on how to get abortion pills through telehealth providers, Sueyoshi said.

The digital mobile billboards it deployed to Moscow may be its most analog platform; it also geo-targets educational ads across multiple social media platforms and via Google.

We've been able to effectively target some Google Ads toward the people who would most benefit from this information — people who are of reproductive age in states that are seeing these abortion bans come through, people who are being left without access to abortion care, and who are being most inundated with misinformation, are the people we're trying to help, she said.

Mayday Health has also put out radio and television ads, in addition to physical billboards, to advertise its services to those without social media or internet access.

Favor also used its blog and social media accounts to highlight Idaho's absurd laws and educate students about how they can access contraceptives while on campus.

Despite [the University of Idaho's] misguided take on the law, it is still legal to get birth control and emergency contraception in Idaho, including through telehealth and delivery options like Favor that deliver discreetly to your door, Swartz wrote in a blog post that was published in the days after the memo became public.

Swartz told BestColleges that many of the barriers to accessing birth control are totally wiped out with mail-order prescriptions. She expects online pharmacies like Favor to become more popular in states enacting reproductive health restrictions.

If access to an in-person pharmacy, a pharmacist that's refusing to dispense [medication], a school that is no longer offer[ing] you birth control is standing in the way of you getting access to care, you can come to Favor, and we will not only continue to serve you in all 50 states with prescription delivery, but we will also stand with you and we will fight for your rights.