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Ryan Johnson, Published March 18 2013

Amendment could again halt NDSU sex ed program

BISMARCK – A new sex education program launched by two North Dakota State University faculty members in partnership with Planned Parenthood could once again be in limbo.

On Monday, the House Human Services Committee approved an amendment to Senate Bill 2368 that would prohibit the use of government funds to “contract with, or provide financial or other support to individuals, organizations, or entities performing, inducing, referring for, or counseling in favor of, abortions.”

The amendment specifies that the prohibition would include any “institution under the control of the State Board of Higher Education” – an apparent clarification after controversy surrounding the $1.2 million federal grant to launch the sex ed program was awarded to the NDSU researchers last September.

Planned Parenthood Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota President Sarah Stoesz issued a statement Monday saying the amendment and other bills this session that would restrict abortion shows the state’s lawmakers “will seemingly stop at nothing” to prevent the organization’s work to help youth.

“Politicians in North Dakota who are opposed to abortion are blindly taking aim at the very agencies that can prevent them,” she wrote. “If you want to reduce the number of abortions, the last thing you should do is take away programs that help young people prevent pregnancy before they are ready to have a family.”

The three-year federal grant was frozen by NDSU administrators for a month earlier this year over legal questions surrounding an unclear law in the North Dakota Century Code. Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem issued an opinion Feb. 14 stating the law was invalidated by a 1981 court opinion, allowing the program to move forward.

Monday’s amendment was prepared by Legislative Council staff for Rep. Bette Grande, R-Fargo. Attempts to reach her for comment Monday were unsuccessful.

Committee member Rep. Chuck Damschen, R-Hampden, said Grande wasn’t at Monday’s hearing, and the amendment was brought forward by Rep. Dwight Kiefert, R-Valley City. The committee ultimately gave SB 2368 a do-pass recommendation.

If approved by the House, the Senate will need to approve the amendment or work out the differences before the bill would go to Gov. Jack Dalrymple.

Damschen said he personally supports the idea behind the amendment, and said it affirms a message the Legislature tried to send last session.

“But I’m not sure if the cleanest way to do it was on this bill,” he said.

SB 2368 would prohibit abortion after 20 weeks, except in the case of medical emergency.

Bill sponsor Sen. Joe Miller, R-Park River, said he supports the amendment.

“If we’re going to go to the extent of trying to outlaw abortion and control abortion in the state of North Dakota, certainly it would make sense that we also wouldn’t want groups that would push abortion as a means of birth control to be receiving state dollars,” he said.

The federal grant specified the funding must be used to create a comprehensive sex ed and adult life skills program, but cannot be used for family planning services. NDSU faculty members Brandy Randall and Molly Secor-Turner teamed up with Planned Parenthood to deliver the voluntary program to Fargo-area teens ages 15 to 19 with parental permission.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Ryan Johnson at (701) 241-5587