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TJ Jerke, Forum News Service, Published March 10 2013

Abortion foe Rep. Bette Grande not afraid of controversy

BISMARCK – Republican Rep. Wes Belter remembers a young, newly elected Bette Grande in her first legislative session in 1997 as a woman with strong beliefs and values.

Belter, of Fargo, was assigned to the new Fargo Republican as part of the Legislature’s mentor program. Over the past 16 years, he says hasn’t seen her flinch once.

“She’s not afraid of controversy and criticism, which is key,” Belter said. “If you are going to be afraid, you lose all your effectiveness.”

Grande, 52, a Williston native and University of North Dakota graduate, is a ninth-term legislator representing District 41 in south-central Fargo. She is widely seen as a family woman with a broad background and a strong Christian faith – a combination that has led her to champion the controversial right-to-life issues that she has proposed and backed over her time in the Legislature.

Grande said her parents and grandparents instilled in her the value of life and to treat and appreciate everyone equally, including the unborn. She says her belief that abortion should be outlawed ultimately comes from many aspects.

“It’s a natural thing. I’ve never sat down to think if I were to be pro-life or pro-choice and what will I do about it,” she said. “I don’t know a time in my life I wasn’t pro-life. That’s how my friends are, family is; that is just how it is.”

Supporters, detractors

Grande said she receives more emails and phone calls from constituents supporting her efforts and asking to help than constituents who do not.

When she does hear from people who don’t agree with her, she hears their concerns loud and clear, she said.

Over the years, she said her favorite email she has received simply said: “You are awful.” Others have contained life-threatening messages she was told to report to law enforcement.

She said a couple of times she had to tell her husband and children to “watch their backs, not be alone for a while, be careful what they say and who approaches them.”

She says it’s less of an issue now that her children are adults.

And so far this session, she says she hasn’t received any life-threatening or concerning emails.

But while some who support abortion rights lash out, she said there hasn’t been contentious debates on the House floor over her specific proposals. She said most debate centers around the general idea of abortion.

“The floor debates are very small when it comes to life issues in the House and always has been that way,” she said. “There might be a few questions that come up, but most know how they are going to vote when the bill is up.”

Rep. Bill Amerman, D-Forman, has served in the House since 2003. He said Grande is a hardworking person he agrees and disagrees with over various issues.

For instance, he has expressed his concern this session over the potential lawsuits the right-to-life legislation might create.

“She has her issues and beliefs,” he said. “But some of these issues I can’t agree with because they might put us in a lawsuit.”

Two abortion measures

Grande has sponsored anti-abortion measures during previous legislative sessions and has introduced two bills this session that seek to regulate abortion practices. The first, House Bill 1305, would make it a misdemeanor if an abortion were performed solely based on the gender or a genetic abnormality of the unborn child.

The issues hit close to her, she said, having relatives with children born with a genetic abnormality and seeing an increase in discrimination toward individuals with Down syndrome and other genetic issues.

“It takes you back to Hitler, and we know where that went,” she said. “He started going after those with abnormalities, and I think it’s an absurdity we would go back to that kind of thing.”

Her second bill, House Bill 1456, would make it a felony for anyone to perform an abortion if a heartbeat is detected in the womb. There is an exemption if the health of the mother is at risk.

“Why would a heartbeat not be considered life?” she said. “It makes so much sense; we all relate life to a heartbeat, and here we have a heartbeat, so isn’t it life?”

Both bills passed through the House and will be taken up by the Senate in the coming weeks.

Education background

Grande came to the Legislature with a background in education and sports medicine, working in the Grand Forks, Minneapolis and Fargo school systems as an athletic trainer and substitute teacher before retiring.

She sits on the education and environment subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee – a seat she was just appointed to this session.

Another assignment has her dealing with issues about the Public Employees Retirement System and Teachers’ Fund for Retirement.

Education was a large reason why she got involved in the state’s political process.

Having three young children in school at the time, she said she was determined to propose and back education policies.

Grande has continually stood in support of public school education, “but at the same time, some children don’t fall into line with public school and need to have the opportunity for private or home school,” she said.

Two of her three children spent time in both public and private schools.

“In the earlier years, sitting down with kids, I had to have their support and their decision making,” she said. “They are older now, and we have good conversations about the position and politics.”

The campaign trail

She said her family was integral in her decision in 2011 to seek North Dakota’s lone congressional seat, eventually won last fall by Republican Kevin Cramer.

“I remember coming home from the last session and seeing the frustration with what we had done and what Washington was doing,” she said. “I asked myself, ‘Can I be an asset to that process?’ North Dakota does a good job on budget aspects, and I thought I could bring that to the table.”

Grande said she has no idea if she would run for Congress again but enjoyed pursuing the statewide office.

“It truly made me focus hard on the federal level of things, giving me a greater understanding of what was going on.”