UND administrators are reviewing any potential connection to entities that support abortion, in light of a recent legal opinion by North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem.
On Nov. 3, Stenehjem issued an opinion that supports a new state law which disallows higher education institutions from receiving funds from the Challenge Grant program if they enter into partnerships with groups that support abortion. Stenehjem was asked to review the law by Mark Hagerott, chancellor of the North Dakota University System, after it was passed this spring.
Senate bill 2030 was originally intended to increase funding to the Challenge Grant program, which gives universities $1 of funding for every $2 they raise privately. An amendment was offered to the bill that would prevent schools from receiving that funding if they partner with abortion-supporting or -performing entities. Once the law was passed, Gov. Doug Burgum struck out any criminal penalties for universities should they enter into such partnerships.
Stenehjem supported the law in his written opinion, and did not delve into the question of its constitutionality.
“... it is my opinion that the requirement added in S.B. 2030 is not preempted by prior legal decisions, and this office will not call the constitutionality of a duly enacted statute into question when a violation is not clearly established,” Stenehjem concluded in his written opinion.
North Dakota State University President Dean Bresciani has previously spoken out against the law, saying legislators want to punish his school, but said the school would abide by the law. NDSU had partnered with Planned Parenthood, and received funds to host programs with the goal of preventing unwanted pregnancies. NDSU will not renew its relationship with the organization.
At UND, President Andrew Armacost said he is not aware of any connection with Planned Parenthood, or any other group that supports abortion. In the past the university has had a relationship with Planned Parenthood, including students either doing internships or work-study programs with the organization. Armacost said he has asked his staff to find out if there are any ongoing relationships.
“I asked all of the vice presidents and the (executive council) members to just go back and redouble efforts to verify that we don't have active agreements,” Armacost said.
Should any such arrangement be discovered, it would be terminated, Armacost said.
While Armacost said it is his understanding that no student is involved with Planned Parenthood in a UND-endorsed capacity, it is difficult to tell if some students are involved with the organization on a personal level.
When asked if he thought the law would impact freedom of speech and academic freedom, Armacost said it’s important to understand the boundaries of those concepts. He said the Legislature made its intention clear with the law, and that when conflicts occur, the courts will make the determination if free speech rights are infringed upon. Armacost said Stenehjem’s opinion speaks clearly about the preservation of those freedoms, and more specifically deals with the nature of contractor-business relationships with abortion providers.
Stenehjem’s opinion legally guides the actions of public officials. Further action on the law would need to be decided by the courts. Stenehjem wrote that higher education officials should exercise “ordinary care and diligence” to remain in compliance with the law.