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Antiabortion activists block sexual health funding for at-risk teens

North Dakota State University froze $1.2 million in sex ed. funds because of pressure from anti-choice activists


Katie McDonough
January 29, 2013 11:16PM (UTC)

Last year, a pair of researchers at North Dakota State University won a $1.2 million grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Administration for Children and Families to start a sexual health program aimed at preventing pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases in at-risk teens.

But as Kate Sheppard at Mother Jones reports, the school had contracted Planned Parenthood to provide the services, and antiabortion activists in the state started complaining about NDSU doing business with the nationwide women's health -- and in states other than North Dakota, abortion services -- provider.

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"When I see something that says this is Planned Parenthood — they’re not even a part of the state of North Dakota. They don't serve anyone in North Dakota, and they shouldn't be a part of North Dakota. They're not a part of how we do business in this state," said Rep. Bette Grande on a local radio show denouncing Planned Parenthood and NDSU. "It is an overt abortion industry that we don't want to be a part of," she added.

The uproar over the partnership soon reached NDSU officials, who quickly soured on the contract.

According to Sheppard:

On Jan. 15, NDSU President Dean Bresciani said on a conservative talk radio show that the school had decided to block the funds, citing a "legal hang-up" that prevents the school from working with Planned Parenthood.

As the local newspaper Forum of Fargo-Moorhead reports, NDSU now says that it is "freezing" the grant while it figures out if it violates a 1979 state law that bars state dollars, or federal dollars coming through the state, from being used "as family planning funds by any person or public or private agency which performs, refers, or encourages abortion."North Dakota Catholic Conference praised NDSU for making "the right decision," and it got glowing reviews in the anti-abortion outlet Life Site News.

Professors and local reproductive and sexual health advocates balked at what they considered a purely political interference with research -- and health service delivery.

According to a statement from Thomas Stone Carlson, president of the Faculty Senate:

We are aware that you have received significant pressure from legislators (Betty Grande and Jim Kasper in particular) who have political agendas that oppose the work of Planned Parenthood. The announcement of your decision to freeze this funding on a conservative talk show and the quick response of several conservative groups thanking legislators for this important victory against Planned Parenthood, makes it difficult to see your decision as anything other than bowing to political pressure.

Critics of NDSU's decision to freeze the grant say it is the North Dakota teens who were the target of the program -- youth who are homeless, in foster care, or in the juvenile justice system -- who stand to lose the most in the botched partnership. As Sarah Stoesz, president of Planned Parenthood Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, told Mother Jones, the funding would have served as a "lifeline for kids that don't have other options." Adding, "To turn away the grant on an ideological basis really just defies logic, particularly in North Dakota, where there is so little available to at-risk youth."

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Katie McDonough

Katie McDonough is Salon's politics writer, focusing on gender, sexuality and reproductive justice. Follow her on Twitter @kmcdonovgh or email her at kmcdonough@salon.com.

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