Questions Raised About University's Decision To Freeze Grant for Sex Education Research

January 30, 2013 — North Dakota State University is drawing scrutiny over its decision to freeze a federal grant awarded to two professors for research on a sex education program run by Planned Parenthood, Mother Jones reports.

Last September, NDSU announced that HHS' Administration for Children and Families had awarded a three-year, $1.2 million competitive grant to two NDSU professors to conduct and evaluate a sex education program among teens who were homeless, in foster care or in the juvenile justice system. In November, the school signed an agreement with Planned Parenthood to run the program -- which was scheduled to launch this month -- while the NDSU professors would study the results.

However, shortly after abortion-rights opponents in the state started complaining about Planned Parenthood's involvement, NDSU President Dean Bresciani announced that the school has decided to block the funds (Sheppard, Mother Jones, 1/28). He said there was a legal issue involving a 1979 state law that bars taxpayer dollars from being used "as family planning funds by any person or public or private agency which performs, refers, or encourages abortion."

Bresciani said the grant will remain on hold until the university makes a final decision (Johnson, Forum of Fargo-Moorhead, 1/22).

Reaction To NDSU's Decision

NDSU Faculty Senate Executive Committee President Thomas Carlson wrote an open letter on Jan. 17, criticizing Bresciani for freezing the grant after receiving "significant pressure from legislators ... who have political agendas that oppose the work of Planned Parenthood" (Mother Jones, 1/28).

Carlson noted that the grant "is in no way associated with family planning" and would not authorize funding for family planning services. Carlson added that the funding would be distributed under the guidelines for the federal Title V grant program, which a 1980 court case "clearly decided" does not fall under the auspices of the 1979 state law. Title V provides blocks grants to states to support health programs for mothers and children (Forum of Fargo-Moorhead, 1/22).

Sarah Stoesz, president of Planned Parenthood Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, also criticized the university's decision. Bresciani "is caving to some ideologically motivated legislators because he is worried about state funding for the university," Stoesz said. Planned Parenthood does not offer any medical services, including abortions, in North Dakota, according to Mother Jones (Mother Jones, 1/28).

However, NDSU Chancellor Hamid Shirvani said Bresciani deserves credit for his decision "because we have an obligation to protect our faculty from criminal charges from breaking state law." He added, "I want to make it clear there is no political pull or push here" (Forum of Fargo-Moorhead, 1/22).