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Family planning: AG says sex ed funding allowed

A month after North Dakota State University officials blocked the college from receiving a $1.2 million grant that two faculty members applied for last spring, Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem ruled that it could receive the funds.

The grant will help pay for comprehensive sex education for Fargo-area teens with the consent of their parents. The grant was stopped because the faculty members planned to partner with Planned Parenthood, which provides abortions at some if its clinics nationwide, but does not do so in North Dakota. It does not have a clinic presence in the state.

The law NDSU officials used to block the grant stated that, "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."

Stenehjem ruled Thursday that a 1981 court ruling, Valley Family Planning v. State of N.D., nullified this clause.

"This statute was challenged on the grounds it conflicted with various federal statutes, including Title X of the Public Health Service Act," he wrote.

The ruling itself states that it nullifies this part of Century Code.

"Even under the most aggravated circumstances, such as where a woman's life would be endangered if she carried the pregnancy to term, the North Dakota provision prohibits Title X grantees from making an abortion referral. This runs afoul of Title X's mandate that comprehensive health care be provided, including referrals to other services when medically indicated. Accordingly, the North Dakota statute is invalid under the Supremacy Clause," Stenehjem quoted in his ruling.

The North Dakota University System is pleased with the decision.

"It is good news that our concern about our faculty being in violation of the law has been removed, and they will be able to accept this generous grant and begin the work intended for these funds," NDUS Chancellor Hamid Shirvani said.

Without the grant sex education is still available through the North Dakota Family Planning Program, which is made possible through federal Title X funding, which accounts for about 35 percent of the programs funding.

"Any school or facility or anything in Region VIII we'll offer education for," said Courtney Evoniuk, family planning coordinator for Community Action, the North Dakota Family Planning Program clinic for Region VIII, which covers Adams, Billings, Bowman, Dunn, Golden Valley, Hettinger, Slope and Stark counties. "Whether it's STD education or the different contraceptive methods. We do take an abstinence only education stance, so we try to educate on that, but also having safe sex as well."

The main clinic is in Dickinson with a satellite clinic in Scranton, she said. Services are contracted through West River Health Services.

The family planning program covers everything from abstinence education and birth control services to STD testing and preconception counseling. Clinics do not provide sterilization services nor do they provide prenatal care, but do make referrals for both.

"We try to do a comprehensive visit," Evoniuk said. "Not just saying 'OK, this is the problem, let's just focus that.' We try to do overall health education."

There are nine family planning clinics throughout North Dakota, state program director Dubi Schwanz said. Five of which are local public health clinics.

"We have one contract, the one in Dickinson is through Community Action, the one in Grand Forks is non-profit, it has family planning and (Women, Infants, and Children), the one in Bismarck is through (the University of North Dakota)," said Kim Mertz, director of the North Dakota Division of Family Health. "Otherwise all the other ones are through local public health units."

Anyone can utilize the services of a Title X clinic, Evoniuk said. Community Action takes insurance, but many clients are uninsured.

Payment for services is based on a sliding scale, Schwanz said. The more a household makes, the smaller the discount on services. More children in the household increase the discount.

For example, a household of three living at or below the poverty line, $19,530 annually, qualify for free services. Up to 150 percent of the poverty line pays 25 percent, up to 200 percent of poverty pays half, up to 250 percent of the poverty level receives a 25 percent discount. Those making more than 250 percent of the poverty level are responsible for their whole bill. For a family of three, that's an annual salary of $48,825.

Men are also eligible to receive exams and STI testing through Title X clinics, Schwanz said.

The majority of clients are women in their 20s, Mertz said.

In Dickinson, high school and college students used to account for a majority of the clients, but as the population grows Community Action is seeing older women seek services, Evoniuk said.

"I can't really say 'this is our most common age,'" she said. "We have a pretty well-rounded age group."

To make an appointment at Community Action call 701-227-0131.

"There is a huge need for family planning services here in North Dakota," Schwanz said. "Especially for those of the low-income population."

Forum News Service reporter Ryan Johnson contributed to this report.

Katherine Grandstrand
I graduated from Bemidji State University in 2007 with a bachelor's degree in mass communcations, from Columbia College Chicago in 2009 with a master's degree in journalism.  
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