In 2012, two researchers at North Dakota State University (NDSU) received a $1.2 million grant from the US Department of Health and Human Services Administration for Children and Families to inaugurate a sexual health program for at-risk teens that would focus on preventing pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. However, the university had contracted with Planned Parenthood— a nationwide women’s health provider that also provides abortion services in many states, although not in North Dakota—to provide the services, and antiabortion activists complained about NDSU associating with the provider. Speaking on a local radio show, Rep. Bette Grande (R-Fargo) denounced both Planned Parenthood and NDSU, stating, “It is an overt abortion industry that we don’t want to be a part of.”
Due to the controversy, NDSU President Dean Bresciani said during a January 15 conservative radio talk show appearance that the university had decided to block the funds, since a “legal hang-up” prevented NDSU from working with Planned Parenthood. The school now says it is freezing the funding while it investigates whether a 1979 state law that prevents state money or federal money 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.”
In the meantime, faculty and local reproductive and sexual health advocates are critical of what they consider to be political interference with both research and public health service delivery. Sarah Stoesz, president of Planned Parenthood Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota stresses the teens who were to be the beneficiaries of the program—the at-risk youth who are homeless, in foster care, or in the juvenile justice system—lose the most, particularly in North Dakota where so little is available to them.