“If we attempted to control research, particularly in response to political pressure, then NDSU could be violating accreditation standards, which require academic freedom and political autonomy,” NDSU President Dean Bresciani wrote in a response to the lawmakers. “We cannot risk our accreditation because, without it, NDSU would not be able to accept any federal money, including student loans and grants.”
Bresciani is right. NDSU can absolutely partner with Planned Parenthood. Nor should we make a habit of letting politicians influence the sort of academic activity which happens on even public campuses.
This particular instance of political meddling may seem appealing to North Dakota’s mostly-Republican electorate, given that it’s Republican politicians doing the meddling, but the roles in this debate would likely be reversed if we were talking about, say, a partnership with the National Rifle Association to study crime trends.
The academics and certain newspaper editorialists would be protesting that sort of a partnership, rather than crowing about academic freedom, and North Dakota’s mostly Republican politicians would be defending it not complaining. In fact, it would probably be the Republicans suddenly talking about academic freedom.
Planned Parenthood is not a good choice for a partner for NDSU, though. Not so much because of their position on abortion – more on that in a moment – but because the group has become a de facto wing of the Democratic party (much as the NRA has become, in recent years, the same for Republicans).
It’s hard to buy Planned Parenthood as a supporter of unbiased, truth-seeking academic endeavor when they’re simultaneously engaged in partisan politics. Up to and including leading demonstrations against Republican candidates for public office. In North Dakota. Last election cycle.
Academia already has a reputation for being dogmatically left-wing and ideologically rigid. Do they really want to burnish that reputation by partnering with a group that has moved, in its advocacy, well beyond its core issues into unvarnished partisan politicking? Is there really not another organization NDSU could partner with for this sort of research?
Remember, Planned Parenthood is active in electoral politics and gave zero dollars to Republicans in the 2018 midterm elections. Can we blame Republicans for being suspicious? Especially when the matter at hand includes very large amounts of tax payer dollars flowing into Planned Parenthood’s coffers?
While the folks at NDSU certainly can partner with Planned Parenthood, they probably shouldn’t.
As for the politicians criticizing the partnership, this line from the Forum editorial rings true to me: “Instead of pulling silly stunts, North Dakota legislators should ask some serious questions about why North Dakota’s progress in reducing teen pregnancies has stalled in recent years compared to other states.”
Since 2012 the Legislature has required abstinence-based curriculum for sex education classes in public schools. While the old saw about abstinence being the best way to prevent unwanted pregnancy is true in a vacuum, it’s not exactly useful in real world situations. This is why NDSU’s research into sex education is important.
Meanwhile, legislative efforts to outlaw or otherwise inhibit the delivery of abortion services to women who want them is not ever going to an effective way to reduce the number of abortions which happen. Even if laws to outlaw abortion entirely were politically possible, and could withstand the scrutiny of the courts, the number of women who would seek them anyway outside of the law would be enormous.
Gun rights supporters should recognize this. It’s the same argument we make about the effectiveness of gun control laws.
We’d be much better off pursuing research into the sort of education and medical technology which could make pregnancy a choice. Not something which can happen by accident, or as a side effect of sexual assault.
The sort of research NDSU is doing could contribute more to the reduction of abortions in North Dakota, and the United States of America, than the recent state-level “heartbeat” abortion bans that have created so many headlines of late.
Shouldn’t that be something pro-life lawmakers want? Even if Planned Parenthood, specifically, is a needlessly provocative choice for a partner in that endeavor?
Wouldn’t it be nice if abortion policy was irrelevant because pregnancy is a choice?