GRAND FORKS — Multiple higher education leaders came out against a North Dakota amendment that would keep funds for student scholarships from schools that partner with organizations that perform abortions, such as Planned Parenthood.

The legislation, which would provide more than $20 million in state matching funds for student scholarships in the North Dakota University System, has become politicized in recent weeks following the attachment of two floor amendments before it passed the Senate last month. The bill was discussed at a division of the House Appropriations Committee on Monday, March 15.

The amendments would keep funds from institutions that partner with organizations that perform abortions — such as Planned Parenthood — as well as add the state’s two universities to the program.

But public higher education leaders say the amendment would hurt the Challenge Fund, the schools and its students.

“Every institution in the NDUS has relationships with medical institutions or providers which, read broadly, could lead to a violation of this provision,” Lisa Johnson, NDUS vice chancellor for academic and student affairs, said. “Even if institutions were able to separate themselves from these longstanding and valuable partnerships, doing so would place health-related programs like nursing, allied health programs, medical technology, radiology, counseling and the UND School of Medicine and Health Sciences at risk, with fewer locations to conduct the required clinical portions of their training in a hospital or clinical setting.”

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First introduced in 2013, the Challenge Fund program leverages private dollars by promising a partial state match. The state provides $1 of state money for every $2 of private donations within a per-campus limit, with the money going to student scholarships, endowed faculty chairs and educational infrastructure.

The program has been popular among higher ed institutions in the state, with most schools running out of their allotted dollars each biennium.

The abortion-related amendment zeros in on the relationship between North Dakota State University and Planned Parenthood.

Sen. Janne Myrdal, R-Edinburg, who introduced the abortion-related amendment on the Senate floor last month, countered that by keeping its relationship with Planned Parenthood, North Dakota State wasn’t following state law. In 2019, nearly 90 legislators wrote an open letter to NDSU President Dean Bresciani asking him to end the partnership with Planned Parenthood.

“Nobody would lose anything if they follow the intent of the law in North Dakota,” she said, adding she supports research at NDSU.

Planned Parenthood does not perform abortions in North Dakota.

During the hearing, Bresciani noted that the grant, which comes to the university through the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, deals with sexual-education and has no abortion services related with it. Planned Parenthood is only a small part of the grant, as well, he said.

The North Dakota Student Association also has come out against the amendments.

“Using higher education as a pawn to further any political agenda, I think all students vehemently oppose,” NDSA President Gracie Lian said in an interview earlier this month.

Public higher education officials also spoke out against an amendment that would add the state’s private institutions — University of Mary in Bismarck and University of Jamestown — to the Challenge Fund.

Johnson said there would be very little oversight of the private institutions. Additionally, the system had concerns over open records laws as the private institutions are not required to comply with state open records regulations.

The division, which is a part of the House Appropriations Committee, decided not to take action on the bill and its amendments, choosing to receive more information about the issues at hand.