Biden Decries University Ban On Abortion Counseling: ‘What Century Are We In?’

Biden Decries University Ban on Abortion Counseling: ‘What Century Are We In?’

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The U.S. Education Department announced on Tuesday that colleges and universities cannot deny counseling services and contraception to students seeking abortions, even in states where abortion is heavily restricted. This guideline reaffirms the existing rules of Title IX funding, which are followed by almost all educational institutions in the United States. However, it appears to clash with certain state policies as several states have recently passed laws banning or severely limiting abortion.

For instance, the University of Idaho released a memo last month instructing its employees to refrain from offering reproductive health counseling or contraception to comply with a state law. President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris highlighted this issue during a White House Reproductive Rights Task Force meeting on Tuesday. Biden criticized the university for reminding its staff that they could face consequences for discussing or informing students about birth control, questioning the backwardness of such policies in the current era.

Idaho is one of the 13 states where almost all abortions are illegal since the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in June removed the nationwide right to abortion. This data was provided by the Guttmacher Institute, a research organization focused on reproductive rights. On Thursday, the Idaho Supreme Court will review oral arguments regarding the merits of three Idaho abortion laws.

Education Secretary Miguel Cardona expressed concerns during the task force meeting, stating that the Supreme Court’s ruling had created fear and confusion on college campuses. The purpose of Tuesday’s guidance was to remind schools about their obligations under Title IX, he added. In June, the Education Department’s civil rights office determined that a community college in Utah had violated Title IX by failing to accommodate a pregnant student and encouraging her to drop a course.

The University of Idaho’s memo explicitly stated that its employees could not provide patients with birth control or emergency contraception, citing a law passed in 2021 that restricts public funding for abortion-related services. However, standard birth control can still be obtained at student health facilities, which operate independently of the university. The university’s spokesperson did not respond to requests for comment on the Education Department’s guidance or the remarks made by Biden and Harris.

Abortion bans also affect other healthcare services, according to White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre. Women have been denied prescriptions to treat miscarriage or conditions like arthritis, and there have been threats to contraception, particularly among college students. Harris highlighted the enactment of 19th-century abortion bans in Arizona and Wisconsin.

During the task force meeting, testimonies from doctors shed light on the detrimental impact of state abortion bans. Dr. Kristin Lyerly, an OB-GYN in Green Bay, Wisconsin, explained how the ban in her state has forced patients to seek care in neighboring states, leaving many without access to the necessary services. She also emphasized the chilling effect on abortion providers, who can now only perform the procedure when the mother’s life is at risk. Even in such cases, the fear of facing legal consequences might deter doctors from providing medically necessary care.

Dr. Nisha Verma, an OB-GYN from Georgia, shared that she has had to turn away patients with high-risk pregnancies or fetal abnormalities due to the state’s six-week abortion ban. She expressed the frustration of having the skills and tools to assist patients but being restrained by the politicians in her state.

Biden, Harris, and Jean-Pierre all called on Congress to pass a law that enforces a nationwide right to abortion. They argued that with such legislation in place, state leaders wouldn’t be able to ban abortion, criminalize providers, or restrict access to contraception.

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