Meet the State Rep Who Says She Lost Her Seat For Her Convictions

Bette Grande says she lost her seat because Planned Parenthood flooded her opponent's campaign.
Bette Grande says Planned Parenthood affiliates spending $2 million in attack ads sealed her defeat. ((Courtesy of Bette Grande)

Bette Grande never planned to be a legislator. Concerned about what her children were being taught in school, this mother of three first ran for the local school board. She ended up serving the people of Fargo, North Dakota, as state representative for 18 years.

In addition to her work on state budget issues, Rep. Grande became known for her outspoken defense of pre-born lives. Her legislative efforts caught the attention of Planned Parenthood.

State Representative Grande made national headlines as the author of the Human Heartbeat Protection Act, passed by wide majorities in the State Legislature and signed by Governor Jack Dalrymple (R-North Dakota) in 2013. A lawsuit from Planned Parenthood state affiliates quickly followed.

On Wednesday, after a years-long court battle, the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled the state law unconstitutional; however, the decision urges the U.S. Supreme Court to reconsider precedent considering "... an unborn child possesses a detectable heartbeat."

Bette Grande will not be responding from the floor of the House Chamber, as in years past. She lost her seat in the 2014 election. According to Grande, Planned Parenthood "poured close to $2 million" into North Dakota and tagged issues ads with Grande's name—sealing her narrow defeat.

Since then, she and her husband Don have enjoyed spending time with their new grandson while she also serves as a research fellow at The Heartland Institute. Speaking via phone from her office in Fargo, Grande discusses her record as state representative and offers her perspective on how to advance the defense of life. 

Bound4LIFE: What is your reaction to the ruling this week by the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals, essentially repealing the North Dakota Human Heartbeat Protection Act which you authored?

Bette Grande: While the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the lower court opinion that North Dakota's Heartbeat bill is unconstitutional, the judges were almost apologetic about it. The full body of this new opinion is very positive for defending life, including pro-life laws enacted in North Dakota.

Let me read it straight from the ruling: "Good reasons exist for the Supreme Court to re-evaluate its jurisprudence," the judges state. "The viability standard discounts the legislative branch's recognized interest in protecting unborn children."

They are saying that "one size fits all" abortion policies that began with Roe v. Wade are unworkable. With the strong difference of opinion on abortion throughout this country, the U.S. Supreme Court needs to reconsider its stance to reflect the people's will—which is ultimately what the Constitution and separation of powers demand. 

What happens now with this lawsuit is anyone's guess. I trust state leaders will consider all options. But one thing is clear. With a focus on pain-capable legislation and other laws centered on life in the womb, the protection of life at all stages is gaining ground.

Bound4LIFE: As a North Dakota state legislator for 18 years, tell us a little of your story. What inspired you to first run for public office?

Bette Grande: My interest in public office did not come willingly; it had to be a solid push from the Father Himself. I did not consider myself a public speaker, so being out in the public square wasn't something I had considered. I had been involved in politics behind-the-scenes, working on campaigns for people I believed would adhere to the value system I had.

When my children were young, I became concerned with how some things were handled in their elementary school—issues of what was being taught to my children. I thought, I should be involved on the school board, that sounds simple enough.

I lost that local race, but soon after that my legislative district came to me and asked if I would fill a soon-to-be-vacated seat of state representative.

We prayed as a family about whether running for the State Legislature was right for us. Public office is not a task anyone should undertake unless they have full support of their spouse and family. The attacks do not stop at my back; it comes to everyone. My husband was supportive right from the start.

As I went to family members, I asked my dad what he thought. At first he said, "No." When I asked why, he said he "did not want to hear people say bad things about my baby girl. You've got to have thick skin, not everyone is going to be nice to you." 

That surprised me because he had taught me to stand up for myself. I responded, "Dad, you taught me to have thick skin." The first two years were not as difficult for me as they were for the kids.

The more vocal you become, those who oppose you tend to attack you. For me, having thick skin is Ephesians 6—as long as I have on my armor, my skin is thick enough. There was a team of intercessors who covered everything I did in prayer.

That is why I felt I could take on the tasks that were laid out before me. One of those, sparked from a passion for my own children, is a passion for saving babies and life issues as a whole.

Bound4LIFE: What were some of your early efforts to defend the sanctity of life?

Bette Grande: In North Dakota, we've always had a very strong pro-life stance—from conception to natural death, we protect each life. 

We voted on a law to stop physician-assisted suicide, as well as making sure North Dakotans are knowledgeable on issues like living will and power of medical attorney before it becomes something they are facing and cannot mentally handle. It is critically important for people's lives to understand these issues.

We've always had a broad view of life issues. I've never liked the label "anti-abortion"; I do pro-life work. It's an argument I had consistently with an Associated Press reporter during my time in office.

Words matter and the pro-abortion side has been successful in the battle over words. The AP Stylebook works against us on life issues. To some it may seem like a minor thing to be called ''pro-life" rather than "anti-abortion"—but in the battle for hearts and minds, we need to be clear.

Through various programs, we worked to ensure the mother is taken care of throughout the pregnancy—that there is awareness of real alternatives to abortion, full disclosure and informed consent. 

Bound4LIFE: You gained national attention with the North Dakota Human Heartbeat Protection Act passed in 2013. Why was this bill crafted specifically based on the pre-born baby's heartbeat? 

Bette Grande: We have to go back to 2009. One bill that I put in ensured that women would be afforded the opportunity to see their ultrasound prior to the abortion and hear the heartbeat of the unborn child. 

We've gained great knowledge about life in the womb over the past 40 years. Having the mention of a baby's heartbeat seemed like a natural thing to include; we simply saw it as the right policy.

When the pro-abortion side filed a lawsuit against that law, the heartbeat aspect was one of their biggest concerns. They became so upset with the thought of an expectant mother hearing her baby's heartbeat. The judge did not agree with their viewpoint. But it intrigued me that they argued against this so strongly. 

This legislation in 2009 also included a provision that chemical abortions must adhere to FDA guidelines. We began seeing this trend of webcam abortions coming to North Dakota.

Abortion providers have been going off-label with how they use RU-486, attempting for it to be used far later in pregnancy than what the FDA allows. They're giving all three doses of the drug to the pregnant woman, so she does not have to come back to the abortion center. It saves cost, but it raises the risk of health complications.

We fought this in court, which went all the way to the North Dakota Supreme Court. It took nearly two years for them to rule on it, but we won that case. Now it is the law in this state: Chemical abortions must adhere to FDA guidelines.

The rise of chemical abortions in this nation has been rapid, and people do not even realize it. They are being done via telemedicine, which should be concerning to everyone.

We found it important to focus the discussion on the life in the womb. There were two main bills in 2013 for me. The first bill was the Prenatal Nondiscrimination Act. People were not understanding what was happening in these later-term abortions, particularly the gender discrimination happening against girls.

We have ADA laws in the United States to ensure we do not discriminate against the disabled. Yet abortionists are discriminating when over 90% of children with Down Syndrome are being aborted.

It's a shameful thing in our society that we feel we can discriminate inside the womb, making a determination about the worth of another person's life based on criteria like presumed productivity.

Do we as a society want to look into the womb and determine someone else's outcome in life, before they've ever had a chance to take their first breath? I believe it sets a very scary precedent, and it's important for people to start having a discussion on this.

Bound4LIFE: How did you as a legislator approach these complex issues of caring for both mothers and pre-born children? 

Bette Grande: Whether it's a money issue or needing parenting skills or a boyfriend issue where the woman may need protection, we want to be there for her in all these ways.

We have laid a lot of groundwork to love them both—it's never been just about the unborn child, it's also about the soon-to-be new mother.

We want women to have access to services like our First Choice clinics and parenting centers, where they can go and stay even after the birth of the child. They are cared for in these places, and we want them to receive as much help as possible.

In the Abortion Control Act and after that in the Alternatives to Abortion legislation, we have worked to be as supportive as possible in all aspects of adoption, foster care and safe haven policies.

In 2013, I felt it was the right time for North Dakota to consider this bill based on when a baby's heartbeat can be detected.

Bound4LIFE: In the State House, the North Dakota Human Heartbeat Protection Act passed by a 63-28 vote and in the Senate 26-17. How did the pro-life side achieve those overwhelming majorities?

Bette Grande: It was an awesome thing. It did not require heavy lobbying by any means. Most people who were elected in both House and Senate already knew where they stood on life issues. For them, this Heartbeat bill was a commonsense issue: We know that stopping a heart ends life.

Prayer certainly played a role in the passage of this bill. I do nothing in life without prayer. Throughout that legislative session, as in previous ones, prayer teams were in place.

When we were on the House floor for the debate, the first bill heard that afternoon was the Prenatal Nondiscrimination Act which prohibits sex-selective abortions. 

The other side was baiting the pro-life legislators, to say something we would regret saying. When colleagues asked what I was going to say, and if they should make a floor speech, I told them I didn't think we needed to say anything in the debate other than describing the policy before us.

The legislator who carried the prenatal bill explained the policy, and talked passionately about his feelings on behalf of pre-born babies. The pro-abortion side got up and said their piece. People knew where they stood. So we proceeded to the vote for the Prenatal Nondiscrimination Act, and it went overwhelmingly pro-life.

The next bill up was the Heartbeat bill, which I had authored. Another legislator got up who was carrying the bill from the committee. He gave a floor speech describing the bill and sat down. The Speaker called for debate. No one said anything for several moments.

On both bills, the pro-abortion side wanted me to stand up and say something. They so badly wanted to get me on the record saying something they felt they could use against me. I didn't need to say anything. It was already spoken.

"Seeing none," the Speaker said and then it proceeded to the vote. The bill passed by over two-thirds majority, with no protest. At that point, I remember turning to my husband and saying, "The mouths of lions have been shut in this lions den." That is truly how the room felt.

When the bill went on to the State Senate, the exact same thing happened. The prenatal bill came up first, the other side tried to argue against it, and the Senate voted.

The Heartbeat bill was next. One Senator from the relevant committee introduced it, he explained the policy and sat down. The president of the Senate called for debate. There was silence.

Again, it passed by nearly two-thirds vote. It was amazing. You could feel a hush come over the room.

Bound4LIFE: Governor Jack Dalrymple signed the bill. Yet Planned Parenthood and its allies quickly filed a lawsuit to keep it from going into effect. Did you expect that?

Bette Grande: They had threatened that from the day I introduced the bill. It was nothing new. I had been used to their lawsuits since 2009; every policy we introduced on life issues, they sued to keep it from going into effect.

Bound4LIFE: A similar bill, based on detecting a baby's heartbeat, passed in Arkansas only a month apart from the North Dakota bill. Was there contact with legislators there?

Bette Grande: I didn't work with anyone outside of North Dakota on the Heartbeat bill. To my knowledge, there was no contact with legislators in Arkansas.

I did not do anything but write the bill, let God do the work and let the people come. I did not recruit anyone or anything similar; it just came to be on the merits of the issue.

Both the Arkansas and North Dakota Heartbeat laws were challenged by Planned Parenthood affiliates in court, but were heard separately because of the differences. Arkansas put the 12-week marker in their law, whereas the North Dakota bill is based strictly on the medical term "heartbeat."

Some in the press have called the North Dakota law "a possible six-week ban on abortion." There is no such wording in the legislation. We were clear on that when we wrote it, because 40 years ago they never knew that a baby's heartbeat was detectable at six weeks.

Why put in a time-bound piece to this policy? Medical terminology is what leads the North Dakota policy. It's more appropriate to allow the new knowledge our society is gaining about life in the womb to be the marker, rather than locking it into a specific week marker or some forced trimester model. 

At one time, viability was defined as 28 weeks. Now with medical advances we see children surviving at 21 weeks. "Heartbeat" is critically important terminology; it isn't locked in to a certain week marker.

Bound4LIFE: Soon your name, as the author of the Heartbeat bill, was in the New York TimesThe Atlantic, Politico ... How did you handle the media frenzy? 

Bette Grande: A picture of me and my husband even ended up in the Australian Times! Really all the attention on me came from an Associated Press story that released shortly after the bill was enacted.

When the governor signed the bill and the press found out about it right away, I was in an appropriations hearing and unaware of all the press frenzy. My husband sent a text message: Have you seen all this stuff? And I hadn't.

Apparently three reporters were waiting to speak to me. I was voting on important bills and deep into state budget issues, which was my job. The citizens of my district trusted me to legislate and to do the detailed work of appropriations.

When we took a break, I went out to speak to the press. The AP reporter spoke first, saying, "I'll bet you're pretty proud of yourself—getting these bills passed and the governor signing them."

His words surprised me. It hit to my soul. Pretty proud of yourself. As a Christian woman, a woman of faith, for someone to say that set me back a step. I thought, Pride? Lord, I pray that is not me.

What came out of my mouth in response was: "No, it's a great day for babies." They used that quote prominently in the story, to get people to read the article. It snowballed from there to a national story.

Some of these media outlets did call and ask for interviews, to their credit. I did as many as I could. But when we're in the middle of a legislative session and I serve in Appropriations, I did not have time to spend a day doing interviews. If the media outlet could not arrange for 7 a.m. or a late afternoon, I was not available.

Some would say I should have cut my losses and spent more time on interviews, but that really was not my job. I was asked by the majority leader to serve on a busy committee for a reason, and I knew I had to do my work there well. I certainly would never miss floor votes for an interview.

Bound4LIFE: Susan B. Anthony List noted in 2011 that "Planned Parenthood has its sights locked on Bette Grande." What happened in that election and in subsequent ones?

Bette Grande: Planned Parenthood and others had their sights set on making sure I was not re-elected for a long period of time. In the 2010 election, it was very telling how bitter some of their attacks were and how their focus was directed only at me.

In our district, a senator and two representatives ran at the same time—but I am the only one who had an opponent. The media and other players just ran with this narrative that I was "out of touch"; though they didn't mention life issues, because North Dakotans largely supported my stand there.

After I was re-elected, what happened over the next three years is that a couple of talk show hosts and one local media outlet spent time attacking me nearly every day.

When asked by my friends who would call into the show, "Are you going to allow her to come on and address your concerns?" The radio host replied, "No, it would just take up my time." That's what I was up against for literally years, trying to combat that type of stuff.

During that election cycle, Planned Parenthood and its state-based political arm poured close to $2 million into North Dakota "life issues" campaigns. They attached my name to all those attack ads. Indirectly, they were able to campaign against me in that fashion.

One cannot track specific donations of my blatantly pro-abortion opponent in the 2014 race, but the out-of-state percentage was fairly large. Check some of the names on the larger donations reported, there are affiliations with various pro-abortion groups. But I'm just presenting information, not making allegations; someone else can draw all the lines.

You can only fight that for so long. It comes down to the constant attack. 

Bound4LIFE: In your view, what is the goal of pro-life legislation?

Bette Grande: Pro-life bills are not about trying to "legislate away" abortion. That by itself would not matter. As leaders, we need to shine a light so people in our society will open their eyes and change their hearts, minds and souls.

Society must change before we will stop abortion as a whole. There has to be a conscience that is awakened. If there was a law enacted tomorrow that somehow made abortion illegal, abortion would not stop tomorrow. Let's be honest about that.

The most important portion of this debate is the fact that we are no longer in our society talking about a "blob of tissue." This is a key aspect of the Heartbeat Bill. We now know that the baby's heart is beating as early as 6 weeks and that is powerful.

For 40 years, pro-choice advocates got away with this "blob of tissue" talk. Instead, the public discussion has now turned to: At what point does the baby feel pain in the womb? At what point are we hearing a baby's heartbeat?

People are starting to ask themselves and ponder these questions. The pro-abortion side knows exactly what we are talking about and the recent Planned Parenthood videos prove that in a disturbing way.

This matters a lot when we talk about a young mother who is trying to decide, Am I going to abort or keep my child?

She is going to hear in the back of her mind what she heard on the news, what she saw in the paper: That baby's heart is beating. That the baby can feel pain. And she's not going to go in and have the abortion. 

Changing hearts, minds and souls—that's what this whole thing is about.

Follow Bette Grande on Twitter and via her posts on Say Anything Blog

After 10 years on staff at The Heritage Foundation and Focus on the Family, Josh M. Shepherd currently serves in communications at Bound4LIFE International—a grassroots movement to pray for the ending of abortion and for revival worldwide.

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