AG to colleges: Obey law barring ties to abortion providers

November 3, 2021 GMT

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — Higher education officials should comply with a state law that forbids a school from funneling grant money to a person or organization that promotes or performs abortions, North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem said in an opinion Wednesday.

Stenehjem’s opinion came after an inquiry from North Dakota University System Chancellor Mark Hagerott, who asked if the legislation was constitutional or was pre-empted by prior legal decisions.

Stenehjem said he believed the legislation is not “unenforceable” based on prior court decisions. He said he would not “opine” if the measure was unconstitutional unless it is “clearly and patently unconstitutional.”

The Republican said in an interview that he believed it wasn’t.

The law, he wrote, “should be read to carry out the purpose of the Legislative Assembly in enacting it.”

The law was aimed primarily at preventing North Dakota State University from funneling federal grant money to Planned Parenthood for sex education.

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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 said the grant expired in September and wouldn’t be renewed.

The bill easily passed the Republican-led Legislature in April. It sought to penalize any institution that enters into a contract with an abortion provider by having its operating budget cut by 2.5%. A school official signing the contract also would face a misdemeanor charge and a fine.

However, GOP Gov. Doug Burgum vetoed the part of the bill with the penalties, 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.

University system officials said academic freedom and other factors outweighed the loss of the grant funds.