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Tribune editorial: Anti-abortion bill will harm universities

Tribune editorial: Anti-abortion bill will harm universities

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What many would consider good intentions have North Dakota lawmakers close to approving bad legislation.

Senate Bill 2030 would punish any state university or college that partners with any entity that supports or promotes abortion. So far, legislators have approved a $2.8 million reduction in state funds along with a maximum penalty of 30 days in jail and a $1,500 fine for faculty or staff members involved in any partnership.

Abortion opponents in the Legislature have been dedicated over the years to finding ways to curb abortion. They have had mixed success, with courts often rejecting anti-abortion legislation.

The target of Senate Bill 2030 is Planned Parenthood and North Dakota State University. Planned Parenthood and NDSU have used a federal research grant to provide young people with evidence-based sex education. For a number of years, at-risk youth have learned about safe sex and healthy sexuality in the course taught by Planned Parenthood.

Supporters of the bill argue schools of higher education shouldn’t be working with organizations involved in abortions even if the programs aren’t related to abortion.

Molly Secor-Turner, an NDSU associate professor who has oversees the program, said abortion isn’t part of the education being provided. NDSU President Dean Bresciani has been defiant about the bill, arguing it’s a threat to academic freedom. He’s vowed not to bow to political pressure.

Bresciani has had a prickly relationship with the Legislature, so his opposition won’t carry much weight with legislators. Faculty, staff, the North Dakota Women’s Network and others are opposing the legislation.

The Tribune editorial board also believes the bill would do more harm than good and should be rejected.

If approved, the measure would remove a program that serves an important purpose. Teaching safe sex can help prevent unwanted pregnancies and, in turn, abortions. Bresciani is right when he argues the bill would be a blow to academic freedom. Universities rely on grants for research, and the bill sends an unwelcoming message to providers.

The bill could open the door on more restrictions for higher education. When Bismarck State College launched its original program with Saudi Arabia, there was opposition because of the Saudis' treatment of women. A solid argument can be made based on several factors that the state shouldn’t be involved in the country.

The Tribune believes the BSC-Saudi relationship is appropriate, as is the NDSU program with Planned Parenthood. People who dig deep enough can find reasons to oppose any program.

The Legislature controls the higher education budget, which gives it a lot of clout over the system. However, it shouldn’t use its authority like a hammer. Threatening to jail and fine faculty or staff is absurd. A healthy educational system needs the freedom to function.

If North Dakota gets the reputation of limiting the ability of universities to do research, it will become a pariah. Researchers and faculty won’t want to come to the state, and higher education will suffer.

We understand the fervor of abortion opponents, but sometimes that passion blinds them to the consequences of their actions. Senate Bill 2030 needs to be rejected.

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