North Dakota AG Maintains Law Against Higher Education Partnerships With Abortion Groups


Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem’s opinion said the Senate Bill 2030 was “not unworkable”. Stenehjem did not find the bill constitutional or unconstitutional, but wrote that officials in North Dakota’s university system should use “ordinary care and diligence” to be in compliance while avoiding constitutional conflict.

Lawmakers are presumed to comply with state and federal constitutions when passing bills, Stenehjem wrote in his notice published Wednesday, November 3. The legislation must be “clearly and patently unconstitutional” for him to speak out against it, he wrote.

“Further, because it is the role of the attorney general to defend legislation against constitutional attacks, this office has been reluctant to issue an opinion questioning the constitutionality of a piece of legislation,” Stenehjem wrote.

NDUS Chancellor Mark Hagerott asked Stenehjem to review the legislation that was passed this spring. The original intention of SB 2030 was to allocate more money to the Challenge Fund, a matching grant program that provides $ 1 of public funding for every $ 2 of private donations to colleges and universities in the state.

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Senator Janne Myrdal, R-Edinburg, amended the bill to add wording that would prevent schools from receiving these funds if they partner with a group that practices or promotes abortions, unless the procedure does not ‘prevents the death of a mother. Lawmakers passed the bill, although Gov. Doug Burgum struck out criminal penalties.

Myrdal told the Forum on Thursday that she expected Stenehjem to uphold the bill, noting that her amendment reflects language that already exists in North Dakota law.

The North Dakota Century Code states that “normal childbirth” should be given preference and is supported by law over abortion. State agencies are prohibited from producing, distributing, publishing, or approving materials that do not give preference to childbirth, and funds may not be given to agencies, counties, municipalities or other subdivisions that promote abortion. unless it is necessary to save a mother’s life, according to state law.

Adding the amendment to the Challenge Program legislation seemed like the only way to get higher education leaders to listen, Myrdal said.

The move came after Myrdal made several requests to North Dakota State University to end its partnership with Planned Parenthood. The school has received funding since 2012 to host educational programs aimed at preventing unwanted pregnancies.

In a May 29, 2019 letter to Myrdal, NDSU President Dean Bresciani said the school would not interfere with research if it complied with the law.

“If we were to attempt to control research, especially in response to political pressure, then the NDSU could violate accreditation standards, which demand academic freedom and political autonomy,” Bresciani wrote in the letter. “We cannot risk our accreditation because without it the NDSU would not be able to accept federal money, including loans and scholarships.”

Bresciani also spoke out against SB 2030, suggesting lawmakers wanted to “punish” the NDSU.

“However, the principles of academic freedom and freedom of expression are fundamental to the functioning of the NDSU and all colleges and universities and must be maintained for accreditation purposes,” he said during the meeting. ‘a hearing before a legislative committee.

The NDSU has said it will not renew its partnership with Planned Parenthood this year.

University professors have said they fear the legislation will restrict academic freedom and open the door to banning partnerships or programs on other topics that lawmakers dislike. NDSU Faculty Senate President Florin Salajan previously told the Forum that he was concerned that professors would pass their research on to other schools.

Federally funded nursing professor Molly Secor-Turner left the NDSU in August for a job at Montana State University. She said the legislative session made her decision easier.

Hagerott thanked Stenehjem for his response, noting that the Challenge program has a long history of success in North Dakota.

“The information provided in the response will ensure our institutions the continued success of the program for the benefit of students,” Hagerott said in a statement.

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