North Dakota State head defends ties with Planned Parenthood

March 30, 2021 GMT

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — The president of North Dakota State University said Tuesday that he won’t bow to political pressure or proposed sanctions against the school for having ties to Planned Parenthood.

“It’s a matter of academic freedom,” University President Dean Bresciani told The Associated Press.

The Republican-led Legislature is pushing legislation to prohibit North Dakota State University from funneling federal grant money to Planned Parenthood for sex education in the state, a move some Republican lawmakers assert may result in classes that promote abortion.

While Planned Parenthood is the United States’ largest single provider of reproductive health services, including abortion, it does not have any health centers or provide abortions in North Dakota. The sole clinic providing abortions in the state is the Red River Women’s Clinic in Fargo.

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The proposed ban easily passed the Senate last month. Republican Sen. Janne Myrdal of Edinburg, one of the Legislature’s most ardent anti-abortion lawmakers, sponsored the original bill that effectively holds hostage grant dollars to the state’s 10 other colleges and universities unless NDSU ends its partnership with Planned Parenthood.

A draft amendment in the House holds harmless other schools but 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 2.5%. 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 sanction would mean a $2.8 million blow to the Fargo-based research university.

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

Bresciani said the faculty member who heads the program “is moving on to other things.”

Still, some lawmakers say an investigation has found the university continues to have “interactions” with Planned Parenthood that range from “academic affiliation agreements” to an online sex education trivia event.

Bresciani says such associations with Planned Parenthood would continue.

Myrdal, the bill sponsor, said university officials for years have “ignored” lawmakers’ concerns with the school’s relationship with Planned Parenthood. He also said the university is ignoring a state law that forbids using taxpayer dollars to be used as family planning funds by a person or group that which performs, refers, or encourages abortion.

A full House vote on the amended Legislation likely won’t happen until early next week at the earliest. If approved, legislators would begin reconciling the differing versions of the bill in conference committee negotiations.