Except for once instance when forced to by a federal court because of the state’s participation in a federal program, North Dakota taxpayers have never funded abortion referrals or counseling in favor of abortion. Several provisions in the North Dakota Century Code secure that policy for specific programs.
To maintain that policy, the North Dakota Senate added language to one of the human trafficking bills that states:
“Except as provided by federal law, funds of this state or a political subdivision of this state and federal funds passing through the state treasury or a state agency to provide treatment and support services for victims of human trafficking may not be used to refer for or counsel in favor of abortion.”
The language is straightforward. Taxpayer dollars should not be used to counsel in favor of or refer for abortions. Grantees are free to engage in those activities or refer a client to someone else who may engage in those activities, but state dollars should not be used. (An already existing law prohibits tax funds for the performance of an abortion.)
Abortion rights advocates, however, are making wild claims about this straightforward language, claiming that it “gags” the speech of medical professionals, that it was “stealthily” added, and more. Dina Butcher has even claimed that it will make talking about abortion “illegal.”
Now Jane Ahlin has used her column in the Forum to repeat and add to the false claims about the amendment. Here’s a look at her claims and the truth.
Claim: The amendment was a “last-minute” action that legislators “had no time to vet.”
Truth: The amendment was proposed in public testimony twice on January 28, 2015 – the first day the Judiciary Committee heard testimony on any part of the human trafficking bills. You can read the testimonies here and here.
[mks_pullquote align=”right” width=”300″ size=”24″ bg_color=”#000000″ txt_color=”#ffffff”]The bishops of North Dakota want passage of the new laws and to be partners with the state and other organizations to help on the issue after the legislative session. We looked at the amendment as both (1) securing the existing policy on the use of tax funds and (2) clearing the way so that the legislation would not be blocked by concerns about tax dollars and abortion.[/mks_pullquote]
SB 2107 received numerous amendments. All of them were discussed and added, February 11, the same day as the taxpayer protection amendment. In addition, the bill was then referred to the Senate Appropriations Committee, which further reviewed the amended bill. That committee finished its work on February 19. The amendment was vetted as much as any other amendment to the bill.
Moreover, starting the first week of the session, I personally kept Christina Sambor, the lobbyist for the anti-human trafficking group FUSE, informed of every development on the proposed amendment. Ms. Sambor stated that FUSE decided not take a position on the amendment. The North Dakota Women’s Network is one of the five partners that formed FUSE, so we can assume that it was aware of the proposed amendment since the beginning of the session.
Some may wonder why I kept Ms. Sambor informed, even though that might mean that abortion advocates would have a “heads up” about the amendment. The answer to that question is simple: The Catholic bishops are committed to helping to stop human trafficking, here and around the world. The bishops of North Dakota want passage of the new laws and to be partners with the state and other organizations to help on the issue after the legislative session. We looked at the amendment as both (1) securing the existing policy on the use of tax funds and (2) clearing the way so that the legislation would not be blocked by concerns about tax dollars and abortion. Our work was not in secret, but was part of a very public support for the entire package of anti-human trafficking bills.
Claim: The amendment “gags” medical professionals.
Truth: It only applies to taxpayer supported services for victims of human trafficking. Those services do not include medical services, which are already covered by other programs. In addition, the amendment does not “gag” anyone. It only prevents using taxpayer dollars in that specific program for referring for or counseling in favor of abortion.
Claim: The provision is contrary to the will of the voters, as shown by Measure 1’s defeat.
Truth: The alleged linkage between Measure 1 and this narrow restriction on using tax money is absurd. Even according to Measure 1’s opponents, the measure was an extreme change in North Dakota law that would impact end-of-life care and IVF. The existing laws limiting the use of tax dollars were never an issue in the campaign.
Even Senator Judy Lee – someone who strongly supports abortion rights – explained to the Forum that the provision merely preserves the existing policy of not using state money to pay for abortion services or counseling, except as provided by federal law.
It should also be noted that two members of the Senate Judiciary Committee favor abortion rights, but still voted for the amendment.
Claim: The language may be unconstitutional. (Ahlin: “[D]id anybody ask what it will cost North Dakota taxpayers if the amendment is challenged in court?”)
Truth: Similar provisions were upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in Rust v. Sullivan.
Claim: The Attorney General has not been asked about the provision.
Truth: The Attorney General was asked about the proposed amendment and he expressed no concerns, noting that similar provisions already exist in state law.
Claim: There is “nothing in the human trafficking bill ‘to expand abortion in North Dakota at taxpayer expense.’”
Truth: That is exactly what Planned Parenthood and the North Dakota Women’s Network have said they want. Remember, this is not about restricting speech. It is about using tax dollars for a specific purpose. When Planned Parenthood says that it wants the provision removed, it means that it wants to use taxpayer dollars for its pro-abortion actions.
How do we know that abortion advocates will take advantage of the absence of a provision preventing the use of taxpayer funds? Because it already happened at the federal level.
In 2000, a bipartisan Congress passed the Trafficking Victims Protection Act. Among other things, it provided federal funding to help victims of human trafficking. For ten years, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) received the grant to administer the program, through which it subcontracted with various individuals and organizations, Catholic and non-Catholic, around the country.
In 2011 the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) re-opened the application process. As in the past, the USCCB scored significantly higher than all other applicants. Nevertheless, DHHS awarded the grants to three lower scoring applicants. A subsequent Congressional hearing revealed that USCCB was denied the grant solely because it would not refer for abortions, despite the fact that nothing prevented USCCB’s sub-grantees from referring and even performing abortions with other sources of funding.
Dina Butcher’s letter, among others, makes it clear that abortion proponents believe, like the Obama Administration, that organizations that receive state funds to help trafficking victims must provide “all options,” including referring for and counseling in favor of abortion. Qualified organizations that refuse to provide those activities need not apply.
Claim: The amendment is “encumbering” the human trafficking bill.
Truth: The provision preserves the status quo on the use of tax dollars for abortion-related activities and allows the state to focus on stopping human trafficking. Abortion is a contentious issue, but most legislators from both political parties have agreed that tax dollars should not be used to support abortion. The provision added to the human trafficking bill continues that policy and clears the way to work human trafficking. It is the abortion proponents who expressed their wish to use the human trafficking bill as a way to start using taxpayer dollars for abortion referrals. They, not the North Dakota Catholic Conference, inserted abortion politics into this discussion.
It is not surprising that abortion advocates would think that abortion is a legitimate option for victims of trafficking. Many “pro-lifers” probably feel the same. The language in SB 2107, however, has nothing to do with that issue.
By its clear language, the provision is only about whether tax dollars should be used for those activities. It does not restrict access to abortion or make anything illegal. Even many “pro-choice” people are uncomfortable with using tax money for anything related to abortion. The provision strikes a necessary balance that clears the way for focusing on addressing human trafficking. If the abortion lobby really cared about doing something to fight human trafficking, it would drop its opposition to the amendment or at least start being honest about what they really want.