Driving the Agenda: A North Dakotan Weighs In

Micah Steffes

My state has one clinic and 17 crisis pregnancy centers. We rank 50th in the nation for for women's reproductive health by NARAL, which slapped us with a big fat F. Guttmacher's stats confirm; we also rank 50th in the nation for efforts to help women avoid unintended pregnancy. As a citizen of North Dakota, I feel deeply ashamed to be heralding from a place that, frankly, I'm not so surprised by.

In a Christian school across the river from my hometown of Fargo, North Dakota, second-grade me was sent to the principle’s office for daring to look before I stepped across the Christian threshold.  When asked to memorize John 3:16, I balked. 

"If God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, why would he send any of us to hell?" I remember my teacher blinking at me, and I continued, "And if he’s so all-powerful, and he loves us so much, then why can’t he just save us by making us believe?" 

The next thing I knew, the principle had my mother on the phone. I remember sitting in a big chair waiting to be punished as I stared balefully up a tiny painting of Jesus crowned in thorns.

The answer to my question I found out much, much later, is free will. Subscribing to a faith is a personal decision. It is not a choice that can be thrust upon anyone–not by a teacher, not by a principle, not even by your mother. 

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Personal decisions and free will? I’m not making any new arguments. 

Forgive me for waxing so personal, but as a citizen of North Dakota, I am deeply ashamed to be heralding from a place that, frankly, I’m not so surprised by. 

My state has one clinic and 17 crisis pregnancy centers.  We rank 50th in the nation for for women’s reproductive health by NARAL, which slapped us with a big fat F. Guttmacher’s stats confirm; we also rank 50th in the nation for efforts to help women avoid unintended pregnancy. 

My state has pulled out every anti-choice legislative trick in the book. Trigger ban? Check! Gag rule? Check! Spousal consent?? Check!! And the list goes on.

So while the Reproductive Health community is finally taking a gander at my less-than-populous state, I have the sincerest wish that my fellow North Dakotans will take a gander at themselves, too. 

We can talk until we’re blue in the face about how far this bill will go, and the ramifications that it will have on many more facets of reproductive health than those that conceived of it ever intended. But at the end of the day, the fact that this piece of legislation even exists isn’t the biggest problem. 

It’s the environment that it was born of. 

Eventually, all of this will have run its course and the Repro Health community will turn it’s eyes upon another state with another catastrophic piece of legislation. But the fact will remain; North Dakota really needs to get it together.  If we don’t throw all of our effort into fostering an environment where the sanctity of free-will and personal decisions can thrive, this drivel is going to keep resurfacing.  

To those of us who care about reproductive freedom in states like North Dakota and elsewhere: Let’s start driving the agenda! 

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