When you see a legislator’s personal obsession masquerade as legislation, no good can come of it. Indeed, much more likely are unintended consequences, which cause trouble galore.

That’s the situation for the second amendment tacked onto SB 2030 that has moved to the ND House. The bill itself funds “the higher education challenge matching grant program” for the State Board of Higher Education. In doing so, it “provides state funds to institutions to match funds raised that generally support student scholarships.” (Note: The first amendment to the bill—unrelated to the second—adds two private universities to the matching program.) The second amendment offered by Sen. Janne Myrdal, R-Edinburg, ties eligibility for those matching funds to her fixation on abortion.

Yes, indeed. Strange to you and me, for Myrdal it’s business as usual. That her amendment stomps on freedom of speech…oh, piffle...who cares if the Constitutional sanction for academic freedom in intellectual pursuits without fear of political and government interference gets trashed? By jiminy, if it’s between her ideological obsession and academic freedom, guess which one she’s going with.

Referencing Century Code 14-02.3, her amendment has the following language: Institutions are eligible for matching funds only if “the institution is not sponsoring, partnering with, applying for grants with, or providing a grant subaward to any person or organization that performs, or promotes the performance of, an abortion unless the abortion is necessary to prevent the death of the woman, and not participating or sponsoring any program producing, distributing, publishing, disseminating, endorsing, or approving materials of any type or form from any organization, that between normal childbirth and abortion, do not give preference, encouragement, and support to normal childbirth.”


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Longtime legislature-watchers may recognize the tortuous language as aimed at one particular NDSU grant that has been in place for years. (Be clear: the grant doesn’t provide for abortion. It involves age-appropriate, evidence-based sex-ed programs, including an effective program called PASE: “Parents Are Sexuality Educators.”) That said, language so clearly tailored to one grant guarantees unintended consequences. For instance, would North Dakota’s medical school or nursing schools’ curricula—necessary for accreditation—make the schools ineligible for grants? Would genetic or cancer research be curtailed? Will other legislators start picking through grants they don’t like and/or don’t fit their political ideologies?

Why, what if a multi-national agricultural company wants to partner on crop research, but its employee health insurance includes abortion care?

Here’s what’s so frustrating: Professors able to fund research through outside grants and programs bring prestige to their schools and reflect well on North Dakota writ large. Above and beyond prestige, gifted academics bring millions of dollars into the state for research. That North Dakota supports and applauds those achievements through matching funds makes wonderful sense. Our academic institutions are points of state pride.

North Dakotans may not view freedom exactly the same way on every issue, but we all value freedom. Make no mistake, this ill-conceived amendment is an assault on freedom.

Ahlin lives in Fargo and is a frequent contributor to The Forum's opinion pages. Email janeahlin@yahoo.com

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Forum's editorial board nor Forum ownership.