Idaho professors sue state over ‘No Public Funds for Abortion’ bill and academic freedom
The Idaho Family Policy Center and Alliance Defending Freedom, which co-drafted the bill, argue that the bill actually protects both.
The American Civil Liberties Union claims the Idaho law infringes on professors’ First and Fourteenth Amendment rights to academic freedom and due process.
Since the initiation of the No Public Funds for Abortion Act into the Idaho Statutes, the American Civil Liberties Union has filed a lawsuit against the State of Idaho on behalf of six professors who believe their academic liberty and right to due process have been violated.
As the name implies, No Public Funds was passed in 2021 and defines the use of tax dollars for abortion advocacy as a misuse of public funds and subject to criminal penalties including up to 14 years imprisonment.
The impact in higher education is also written into the bill: employees of “public institution[s] of higher education,” and professors cannot legally provide, counsel in favor of, or refer anyone for abortions within the scope of their employment.
In response to the legislation, the ACLU filed a lawsuit on Aug. 8 on behalf of the professors, claiming that the “sweeping and unclear” bill creates confusion that violates their academic freedom and right to due process.
The plaintiffs allege that after the bill became law, professors at the University of Idaho, Boise State University, and Idaho State University altered their courses for fear that mentioning abortion at all could constitute a criminal offense.
The discomfort alleged in the lawsuit caused some professors to “[strip] entire modules that address abortion; … [remove] assigned reading materials addressing abortion … [and restructure] their approach to classroom discussion.”
However, the author of the bill, Blaine Conzatti of the Idaho Family Policy Institute told Campus Reform that the aim of the bill is to protect academic freedom. It annihilates contracts between schools and partisan organizations like Planned Parenthood that actively push abortion as a moral good.
The Alliance Defending Freedom helped draft the bill as well.
“Idaho has a compelling interest in protecting life rather than funding—directly or indirectly—its destruction,” wrote ADF Senior Counsel Denise Burke to Campus Reform. “The No Public Funds for Abortion Act ensures that public funds, facilities, and personnel are not used for carrying out abortions or abortion referrals.”
Conzatti added that removing books and modules from class “is not at all consonant with the intention of the law.”
No one’s academic freedom is being curtailed, Conzatti explained. Professors can still discuss abortion in the classroom. They can even point to organizations like Planned Parenthood as resources for understanding a pro-abortion perspective. No Public Funds prohibits the insertion of a professor’s moral opinion.
In a press release Conzatti provided for Campus Reform, he added, “The First and Fourteenth amendments to the U.S. Constitution do not provide carte blanche legal protections for higher education faculty to advocate or engage in criminal behavior on the taxpayer’s dime.”
Idaho Representative Bruce Skaug, who sponsored No Public Funds, told Campus Reform that the bill was well-received by both the Idaho House and Senate. It wasn’t really a problem, he added, until this lawsuit brought against it nearly two years after it was passed.
Campus Reform also contacted the American Civil Liberties Union for comment. This article will be updated accordingly.