NDSU defends paying Planned Parenthood over $165k in single year

Despite strong backlash from state legislators and Christian groups, North Dakota State University is continuing to partner with Planned Parenthood in hosting “Safe Spaces” sexual education workshops for teachers in K-12 schools.

Eighty-nine Republican state legislators, along with several Christian organizations, have called for NDSU to drop the partnership, claiming it violates the intention of North Dakota law, reported Inforum.com. According to state law, “no funds of this state or any agency, county, municipality, or any other subdivision thereof and no federal funds passing through the state treasury or a state agency may be used as family planning funds by any person or public or private agency which performs, refers, or encourages abortion.”

Since 2017, NDSU has received $250,000 annually as part of a federal program aimed at youth sex education, with a particular aim towards preventing unintended pregnancies and the transmission of sexually transmitted diseases. In 2018, NDSU gave Planned Parenthood $165,629 out of the $250,000 that the school received from its federal grant, Brynn Rawlings, media relations coordinator for NDSU confirmed to Campus Reform

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According to Molly Secor-Turner, an NDSU associate professor and investigator for the grant, the donations to Planned Parenthood helped fund various education efforts, including the Safe Spaces workshops, which received almost $1,000 of NDSU’s grant money.

In a letter sent to the university this April, Republican state legislators stated that while some of the workshop’s training topics were themselves worrisome, “it is primarily the very public partnership with Planned Parenthood that causes the greatest concern,” as Planned Parenthood is most prominently known as the nation’s premier abortion provider. 

In particular, the letter contrasts the “research into teaching methods about sexual health,” which the legislators deem a proper academic pursuit, with NDSU supporting Planned Parenthood’s classes across the state, which they deem unnecessary and inappropriate. 

On May 29, NDSU President Dean Bresciani responded via a letter to state Sen. Janne Myrdal (R-ND), who collected the signatures for the April letter. Bresciani claimed that the University cannot cancel its grant, because that would amount to controlling research, and thus endanger the university’s accreditation.

In an interview with Campus Reform, Myrdal said that although the letter was “informative,” it “opened up more concerns about the concerns we already had: taxpayer money being funneled through a taxpayer-funded, state university, to a group that we generally don’t approve of.”

NDSU’s webpage for the workshop makes no mention of research, instead touting the program as a way to “provide training” on issues including sexual orientation and gender identity. Myrdal added that the training itself was not necessarily a problem, but that “it is a matter of  [NDSU] being a channel and a conduit for private organizations to come in” and provide the training. 

Because of this, she asserted that NDSU’s refusal to cancel the partnership in the name of research “is a little bit in question there because there really is no research and there is no academic freedom really applying” because NDSU is not conducting the training and the training does not take place on campus.  

[RELATED: CUNY partners with Planned Parenthood in pro-abortion research]

In defense of the partnership, Amy Jacobson, North Dakota’s director for Planned Parenthood, claimed that each Safe Space workshop “basically focuses on positive youth development and adolescent sexual risk behaviors,” according to Inforum.com.

Mark Jorritsma, President and Executive Director of North Dakota’s Family Policy Alliance branch, pushed back against the partnership, stating: “I guarantee you…there will be discussion over abortion, and how it relates to the kids and how that should definitely be put forward as an option for them and so on.”

Last year, similar workshops were held in Bismarck, Jamestown, and Minot. These workshops met resistance from Concerned Women for America and the Family Policy Alliance, which pressured NDSU to cancel them.

The State Department of Public Instruction disavowed any connection to the workshops and stated that public schools do not instruct teachers on whether or not to attend the program, which has reached about 100 teachers so far.

Similarly, Fargo Public Schools district spokeswoman Annmarie Campbell stated that teachers must decide independently to attend the workshops, as “FPS is not an approving entity in that process.”

This year’s Safe Spaces workshops will be held between June 3 and 15 in Dickinson, Fargo and Grand Forks, North Dakota. The primary instructor is Katie Christensen, the education & outreach manager at Planned Parenthood. 

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @JohnPHasson