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Lawsuit says Idaho's No Public Funds for Abortion Act violates educators' freedom of speech

Richard Rodriguez
Boise State Public Radio

Six professors and two faculty unions are suing Idaho for its No Public Funds for Abortion Act, which they say violates their First Amendment rights.

The statute prohibits state funds from being used to “promote” or “counsel in favor of abortions.’ The plaintiffs, from Boise State University, University of Idaho and Idaho State University, say the law is too vague to interpret.

“The professors in the universities don't really know where the line is at, what is, what is permissible, what is not permissible,” said Leo Morales, executive director of the ACLU of Idaho. “This particular law gags universities and the professors from engaging in what is critical discussions about abortion."

Morales added the law is unconstitutional, stifling university employee’s free speech, academic freedom and due process rights. He also said public universities should have the autonomy to engage in debate without governmental interference.

“Whether the chilling effect is by design or not, that is certainly the effect on faculty,” said Martin Orr, president of the Idaho Federation of Teachers and a plaintiff in the lawsuit.

He said classroom discussions can be challenging and some professors are avoiding the topic of abortion completely because they’re afraid of prosecution.

“The idea that if, if the discussion goes the wrong way, I might find myself out of work and in prison, that’s new,” he added.

Under the law, violators could face misdemeanor or felony charges, and could face penalties of up to 14 years in prison,

“The NPFAA therefore leaves Idaho’s public university educators with an impossible — and unconstitutional — choice: avoid any speech that could be construed as favorable to abortion in course materials, lectures, class discussions, student assignments and academic scholarship, or risk imprisonment, loss of livelihood and financial ruin for violating the law,“ the complaint reads.

The lawsuit asks for a preliminary injunction blocking enforcement of the statute. The Attorney General’s office, which is currently fielding multiple challenges to Idaho’s various abortion bans, did not respond to requests for comment.

As the Canyon County reporter, I cover the Latina/o/x communities and agricultural hub of the Treasure Valley. I’m super invested in local journalism and social equity, and very grateful to be working in Idaho.

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