Abortion Opponents In North Dakota Block Comprehensive Sex Ed For At-Risk Youth

The North Dakota legislature recently passed the harshest abortion ban in the nation, and is also considering two “personhood” measures that would outlaw abortion altogether. But state lawmakers also want to target abortion by going after Planned Parenthood — even when it comes to the organization’s preventative sexual health resources for youth. Republicans are now attempting to block a comprehensive sex ed program that North Dakota State University (NDSU) was planning to launch in partnership with Planned Parenthood.

NDSU won a three-year federal grant to partner with Planned Parenthood to provide sexual education resources to at-risk youth. The voluntary sex ed program is designed to offer family planning resources and life coaching for teenagers at high risk for unintended pregnancy, and would take place outside of school hours. However, the grant was frozen earlier this year after abortion opponents attempted to derail the initiative because Planned Parenthood was participating — even though the state’s affiliates don’t perform any abortion services. North Dakota’s Attorney General gave NDSU permission to proceed with the sex ed program last month. Unfortunately, the fight over sex ed isn’t over yet.

Now, state legislators are joining the crusade against Planned Parenthood. On Monday, the House Human Services Committee approved an amendment to a Senate bill that would prohibit the use of government funds to “contract with, or provide financial or other support to individuals, organizations, or entities performing, inducing, referring for, or counseling in favor of, abortions.” The amendment notes that this ban would apply to any “institution under the control of the State Board of Higher Education” — and would sure that NDSU’s sex ed grant won’t move forward with Planned Parenthood’s participation.

The president of the Planned Parenthood affiliate for Minnesota, North Dakota, and South Dakota points out that blocking comprehensive sex ed resources actually undermines anti-choice politicians’ goal of preventing abortions. “Politicians in North Dakota who are opposed to abortion are blindly taking aim at the very agencies that can prevent them,” she explained in a statement. “If you want to reduce the number of abortions, the last thing you should do is take away programs that help young people prevent pregnancy before they are ready to have a family.”

Research backs up that logic. A recent study found that focusing on youth services, and providing at-risk teens with support programs tailored to their needs, can effectively increase adolescents’ contraceptive use and lower their rates of unintended pregnancy. Nevertheless, North Dakota lawmakers are so focused on advancing anti-abortion legislation that they may end up following in Texas’ footsteps — where deep cuts to family planning programs are projected to lead to a sharp rise in unintended births.