ND governor vetoes penalizing state colleges over abortions

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum has partially vetoed a bill aimed at penalizing the state’s 11 colleges and universities for funneling federal grant money to individuals or organizations that promote or perform abortions.

The Republican governor said in his veto message late Friday that the “multimillion-dollar penalties directed toward our public higher education institutions and mandatory criminal charges against state employees” is “problematic.”

Burgum vetoed the portion of the bill that contains the sanctions, citing state law that already forbids “an agency of the state” from funding or supporting programs that do not “give preference, encouragement and support to normal childbirth.” Burgum said the sections he did not veto were intended to clarify that unless institutions abide by anti-abortion policies, they are ineligible to receive challenge grant dollars.

The Republican-led North Dakota Legislature passed the bill, which was primarily aimed at preventing North Dakota State University from funneling grant money to Planned Parenthood for sex education in the state.

The bill says any institution that enters into a contract with “a person that performs or promotes the performance of an abortion” would have its operating budget cut by $2.8 million. The school official signing the contract also would face a misdemeanor charge punishable by up to 30 days in jail and a $1,500 fine.

The $250,000 annual grant to the Fargo-based research university comes from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. NDSU President Dean Bresciani has said the grant expires in September and won’t be renewed, but not because of the Legislature’s threat of sanctions.

Bresciani said that he won’t bow to political pressure or proposed sanctions against the school for having ties to Planned Parenthood. He called it “a matter of academic freedom.”

The bill appropriates $11.1 million from the state’s General Fund for the Challenge Grant program that’s used at all schools for such things as scholarships and research. The money is matched two-to-one with private or other funds.

The Senate passed the bill, 35-11. The GOP-led House passed the measure 66-25.

Burgum cited state law already prevents agencies from funding, endorsing, or supporting “any program that, between normal childbirth and abortion, does not give preference, encouragement, and support to normal childbirth.”

The Legislature adjourned April 30 and is unlikely to reconvene to challenge the veto.

In the veto message, Burgum reaffirmed the highly conservative state’s stance on abortion.

“North Dakota has strong pro-life public policies, and our administration has a strong record of signing pro-life legislation into law,” Burgum wrote. “The North Dakota legislature has made clear, and our administration agrees, that taxpayer funding should not go toward funding abortions.”