GRAND FORKS — A petition asking North Dakota legislators to remove amendments related to Planned Parenthood and other organizations that perform abortions has collected more than 1,000 signatures as of Thursday, April 8.
The petition comes the same week the North Dakota House approved legislative amendments that would levy potential arrest for faculty or staff who sign contracts with organizations that perform abortions. This comes after lawmakers say North Dakota State University failed to heed the Legislature’s warning last session about its continued partnership with Planned Parenthood.
But higher education leaders contend the amendments’ broad language could create potential unintended issues.
Since Tuesday, April 6, more than 1,000 people have signed the petition against the amendments, more than half of whom are students and about 20% faculty, said Liz Legerski, a University of North Dakota professor and the faculty representative on the State Board of Higher Education.
“These amendments impact faculty academic freedom and will stifle research collaborations beyond the target of these amendments,” she said. “They may also impact student choice when it comes to internship placements and research opportunities.”
She feels legislators have failed to see that “academic freedom is a critical component of Freedom of Speech in a democratic society, and when politicians interfere with the research programs of individual faculty, they are contributing to the erosion of democratic principles critical to a free society.”
Senate Bill 2030 originally was legislation dedicated to the state’s Challenge Grant program, which gives colleges and universities $1 in state funding for every $2 raised by the school. But amendments related to organizations that perform abortions altered the bill significantly.
The main funding for the Challenge Grant program was moved to the main funding bill for the North Dakota University System shortly before Wednesday’s floor session.
Under the current form of Senate Bill 2030, around $3 million in state appropriations could be withheld from state universities that form partnerships with organizations that perform abortions. Additionally, faculty and staff involved could face a Class B misdemeanor charge that carries a maximum penalty of 30 days in jail and a $1,500 fine. The universities themselves could also face penalties.
The law would require public universities to certify they are not “sponsoring, partnering with, applying for grants with, or providing a grant sub-award to any person or organization that performs or promotes the performance of an abortion unless the abortion is necessary to prevent the death of the woman." The bill exempts relationships with hospitals and medical clinics from penalties.
The amended legislation, which passed the House by 66-25 vote Wednesday, comes after NDSU has had a partnership with Planned Parenthood. The program aims to provide evidence-based sex education to at-risk youth in the state, but some lawmakers view the partnership as violating state law. The faculty member who heads up the research at NDSU has said she will not be reapplying for the grant in September.
It now heads back to the Senate.
North Dakota University System Chancellor Mark Hagerott said he’s recommending legislators do a study of what exactly this law could mean and take time to look into the topic more thoroughly before passing it into law.
Other opponents, including House Minority Leader Josh Boschee, D-Fargo, worry it could hurt recruitment and retention of faculty.
But the bill's supporters say most North Dakotans are not interested in their tax dollars going toward universities to interact with an organization that provides abortions. Rep. Dan Ruby, R-Minot, said during Wednesday’s floor session that "there are enough really good people that come and research and will do research here and not accept that kind of activity or funding."
Additionally, some lawmakers say that they’ve asked NDSU to stop this program before, including a letter signed by around 90 legislators last session. They felt the university ignored them.
Multiple academic organizations in the state, including Council of College Faculties and the North Dakota Student Association, have come out against the bill, as well as student and faculty senates.