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North Dakota Strips Amendment to Block Sex Ed Program for At-Risk Youth

Robin Marty

Anti-choice North Dakota lawmakers may be ready to ban abortion and possibly some forms of birth control, but even they recognize that blocking federal money for a sex ed program serving at-risk teens may be going too far.

Correction, April 3, 9:50 am: This article has been corrected to note the proper title for Rep. Betty Grande, who is a state representative, not state senator.

The North Dakota legislature has gone to extremes in its efforts to curb reproductive rights, banning abortion before many women would know they are pregnant, trying to close the state’s sole abortion provider, and coming from within a few votes of implementing a bill that would have banned abortion, many forms of fertility treatments, and even common forms of birth control in the state. But even the most radically anti-choice politicians in the state eventually recognized that, despite their dislike of all things family planning, blocking the renewal of a federally-funded program that offers comprehensive sex ed to at-risk youth would have crossed a line.

The amendment to force North Dakota State University to discontinue its Personal Responsibility Education Program (PREP) because of its partnership with Planned Parenthood was proposed by state Rep. Bette Grande (R-Fargo), who also proposed the state’s now infamous “heartbeat” ban. The program’s mission is to help teens from foster homes, teens who live on the streets, and youth who are otherwise more likely to engage in sexual activities that increase their risk of intended pregnancy or sexually transmitted infections, but Grande is unable to see the benefits of the program as long as it’s associated with Planned Parenthood.

“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,” Grande told a local radio station back in January. Her amendment would have blocked federal funding for a program designed to reduce teen pregnancy—and as a result, the need for teen abortion services—all so she could ensure that no money ever went to a Planned Parenthood affiliate that doesn’t even offer abortion services.

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By tacking the amendment onto a proposed 20-week ban on abortions, lawmakers were able to get it put up for a vote without any debate, testimony, or even public feedback. However, lawmakers at a conference committee meeting to reconcile the house and senate versions of the bill voted unanimously to strip the Grande amendment before sending the anti-abortion bill to the governor.

“We are gratified by the conference committee’s vote and we are ready to move forward. Preventing teen pregnancy helps break the cycle of poverty, improves educational attainment, and improves health outcomes. Because the health and well-being of our young people is paramount, we’re thrilled that we can continue this teen pregnancy prevention and life-skills building program in North Dakota,” said Sarah Stoesz, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota in a statement. “Today, the health and well-being of North Dakota teens prevailed over politics.”

The so-called fetal pain bill will now go to the governor for signature, but the amendment killing the sex ed program will not be a part of the final bill. Sadly, in North Dakota these days, that counts as a victory.

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