If you really want there to be fewer abortions, you need there to be fewer unintended pregnancies. This is a simple truth, but it’s one that the North Dakota legislature is fighting every step of the way. At the same time that state politicians are voting in favor of every abortion restriction introduced—regardless of their constitutionality or likelihood that they will ever be put into effect—they’re also fighting initiatives that could prevent pregnancies in the first place. For instance, they’re putting up for a vote a “personhood” amendment that could ban many forms of birth control in the state.
At least the public will have input on the “personhood” amendment, unlike an amendment to end a comprehensive sex-education program that would assist at-risk youth in the state—that amendment was added onto a state senate bill that would ban abortion at 20 weeks post-conception. The Personal Responsibility Education Program (PREP), which is paid for with federal funds, not state funds, is run by North Dakota State University (NDSU) in conjunction with Planned Parenthood Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota. It’s this partnership that has some state legislators scrambling to end the program once and for all.
Because the move to kill off PREP was added to an already passed state senate bill, it will receive no public hearing or testimony, either for or against it. No public hearing means there will be no chance for proponents of the program to explain why it is necessary, especially in a state where many lawmakers are adamant about forcing women with unintended pregnancies to give birth. Nor will there be an opportunity to question legislators and force them to justify their own hypocrisy when it comes to “ending abortion.”
“This is incredibly unusual,” said Elizabeth Nash, state issues manager at the Guttmacher Institute, in a press call. “No state has tried to block a federal sex-ed program like this, ever.”
Even more unusual is the fact that North Dakota has never passed any laws regarding sex education, according to Nash. And while other states are seeking out funding to improve their sex-ed curricula, North Dakota is doing the opposite. “North Dakota is really moving in a direction that is opposite of what we’ve seen in other states,” said Nash.
“The U.S. has the highest teen pregnancy rates in the developed world. We know most of those pregnancies are unplanned and unintended,” said Dr. John Santelli, chair of the Heilbrunn Department of Population and Family Health at Columbia University. Dr. Santelli spoke in favor of continuing to fund PREP, not just to help reduce unintended pregnancy rates in the local population, but also so its lessons can be applied to other comprehensive sex-ed programs being developed around the country. “These sorts of programs need to be left to health professionals and health organizations, and not be decided by politicians,” he said.
North Dakota has one of the lowest teen pregnancy rates in the country, but among high-risk individuals, who would be assisted by the program, the rate is higher than the national average, according to Molly Secor-Turner, the lead researcher at NDSU and a spokesperson for PREP. Secor-Turner said that of the 300 to 400 at-risk Fargo youth in the program, many are in foster care, homeless, or have other life experiences that make them more likely to be involved in high-risk activities. Most of them are already sexually active, and PREP helps them to better navigate decisions that can reduce the risk of contracting sexually transmitted infections and help prevent pregnancy.
A conference committee is expected to meet and discuss the amendment on April 2. Should the amendment pass, it is unlikely that the program would be funded past its current year.