Updates, News, and Miscellany
By Christopher Dodson
North Dakota Catholic Conference
Consider this column a collection of shorts. It includes developments on issues previously discussed, items that could not fit into earlier columns, pieces of information that, while important, would not fill an entire column, and new issues worth reporting.
Teen pregnancies in North Dakota fell to an all-time low in 2022. In actual numbers, 364 pregnancies involved teen mothers. That is a 50% decrease in just ten years. The number of pregnancies involving minors (17 and below) is also at an all-time low at 80. That is a 60% decrease in ten years. The percentage of all pregnancies that involved teens was also a record low at 3.59%. Clearly, North Dakota is doing something right when it comes to teen pregnancy.
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While we are on the subject of numbers, we can give thanks that less blood was shed by abortion on North Dakota soil in 2022. The abortion clinic shut down in the first days of August. For the last few years, the clinic has done about 96 abortions a month. That means that the Dobbs decision and the state’s laws prevented about 477 abortions from being done in North Dakota last year. At this time, we do not know how many North Dakota women went elsewhere for an abortion, but at least we have taken an important step toward making the state a sanctuary for life.
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Earlier this year, I wrote about the many sources of Catholic social doctrine. For those interested in a more concise and introductory approach, I recommend The Church's Best-Kept Secret: A Primer on Catholic Social Teaching by Mark Shea. It is the best introduction to Catholic social doctrine I have read and it avoids slipping into partisan or left/right ideology.
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In the final days of 2022, Congress passed the Pregnancy Workers Fairness Act. The act, which was supported by a broad spectrum of organizations, including pro-life groups and the U.S. bishops conference, provides additional workplace protections to women who need accommodations because of pregnancy or a miscarriage. Throughout the legislative process, Congress made it clear that the act did not cover abortion-related services. Nevertheless, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has released proposed regulations that attempt to use the act to require employers to provide accommodations for abortion. The proposed rules, if adopted, could be challenged in court.
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Perhaps no single federal legislation impacts our lives in North Dakota more than the Farm Bill. But it also impacts the lives of urban and suburban residents. The Farm Bill encompasses development, conservation, energy, trade, and more. It also provides nutrition assistance to low-income families. Because the bill covers so many programs, Catholic Rural Life, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Catholic Relief Services, and Catholic Charities USA are working together to express the voice of the Catholic Church on this multi-layered bill. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops website has a page dedicated to the Farm Bill. (https://tinyurl.com/2p8x6fmx) It includes principles for the bill, background information, and work on previous Farm Bills. As work on the Farm Bill moves forward, look for opportunities to learn and share the Church’s perspective.
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Every North Dakotan probably has noticed the massive expansion of charitable gaming in the state. Electric pull-tabs, which look and operate much like slot machines, have driven this growth. Along with this development, there exist concerns about bad actors, the impact on persons with gambling addictions, and whether all the beneficiaries are really charities. Not surprisingly, therefore, the Judiciary legislative interim committee has started a comprehensive study of all aspects of charitable gaming in the state.
The Catholic Church does not teach that gambling itself is immoral. But, as with all things, the government has an obligation to regulate for the common good and with special attention to those most vulnerable to the negative impacts of the activity. Hopefully, the committee will consider these principles in its study.
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Charitable gaming is not the only issue of interest that legislative interim committees are studying. Committees are studying school choice models, the state’s guardianship programs, health care in many aspects, behavioral health, homelessness, legal restrictions on carrying firearms (including churches), the child welfare system, and child care. There is also a study on the impacts of artificial intelligence, including its impact on youth.
Interim committee information is a little hard to find on the legislature’s website (https://www.ndlegis.gov/assembly/68-2023/committees/interim), but all interim committee hearings are streamed live and available for playback the day after. Contact the North Dakota Catholic Conference office if you need help navigating the site.
What We Do
The North Dakota Catholic Conference acts on behalf of the Roman Catholic bishops of North Dakota to respond to public policy issues of concern to the Catholic Church and to educate Catholics and the general public about Catholic social doctrine.