Event Management

Will Event Planners Reconsider States Where Abortion Rights Are in Limbo?


Skift Take

How will President Joe Biden's executive order to ensure access to abortion impact groups that have vowed not to meet in states where it is illegal?

The Supreme Court decision eliminating the constitutional right to abortion is being challenged, and the events industry is taking note. On August 3, President Joe Biden signed an executive order (EO) to ensure access to abortion that helps women travel out of state. The President’s EO also stipulates that health care providers comply with federal law so women aren’t delayed in receiving care and advances research and data collection “to evaluate the impact that this reproductive health crisis is having on maternal health and other health conditions and outcomes.”

The EO comes the day after Kansas voters handed abortion-rights advocates a massive victory by rejecting a proposed state constitutional amendment eliminating the right to an abortion, a portent of what is to come with a record number of abortion questions on state ballots this year.

In June, when the Supreme Court decision came down, some convention and event planners said they would not host their gatherings in states where abortion is illegal, a decision with financial and legal ramifications after two years of shutdown. However, for many, meeting in a destination where reproductive health care is comprised is not an option.

Salt Lake City is a particularly illustrative example. Public Responsibility in Medicine and Research (PRIM&R), the largest professional research ethics organization, was planning to meet in Salt Lake City in November — on track to attract about 2,400 attendees, especially impactful as the first face-to-face meeting in two years following the pandemic shutdown. 

That will have to wait. PRIM&R22 is now transitioning to an all-virtual meeting on December 12-15. 

The reason for this move is twofold. First, the Utah legislature recently enacted a trigger law banning most abortions, and in addition, a bill was passed prohibiting transgender women and girls from participating in interscholastic girls’ and women’s sports.

“These laws deny access to essential healthcare for people who can become pregnant and deny transgender women and girls the opportunity to participate in sports aligned with their gender identity,” said Elisa A. Hurley, PRIM&R executive director. “They are discriminatory and antithetical to PRIM&R’s values as an ethics organization.”

Although appreciative of President Biden’s executive order, it doesn’t change PRIM&R’s course of action, said Hurley. “Utah is not a state where all our constituents will feel safe or welcome, and where their autonomy will be respected,” she said.

Currently in negotiation, PRIM&R will likely face financial penalties for canceling this in-person Salt Lake City conference. “This decision has caused us to break contracts, but we do include clauses about anti-discriminatory language, so we will see. The board and I decided we are willing to pay some of these penalties to lead with our values. We must stand up for what we believe in.”

PRIM&R has had successful virtual meetings the last two years and expects this year’s to be the same. “We will recoup some financial losses through our virtual platform,” Hurley said, adding that the response to this decision from its constituents has been overwhelmingly supportive and positive. 

PRIM&R is just one of many examples of conferences pushing back after the overthrow of Roe v Wade. Another group, leading economists, issued a statement urging the American Economic Association (AEA) to move its annual 2023 convention scheduled to be held in New Orleans, in addition to its 2024 annual meetings currently booked in Texas. 

“To protect the health and well-being of all AEA members, I encourage the executive committee to move its meetings to 2023 and 2024 and commit to holding future meetings in states where women have access to essential pregnancy care rights are reserved,” a letter signed by seven economists and professor of economics at Williams College, stated.

Another group, the Society of Women Engineers (SWE), declared that it would not sign any new contracts to host its conferences in locations with limits to reproductive and gender-based healthcare. “This will take effect for SWE locals in 2024 and for annual conferences in 2027, 2028, 2030, and beyond (all other locations were finalized before current and pending policies at the local and federal level concerning reproductive and gender-based healthcare existed),” the statement reads. 

The SWE has a history of restricting event locations. While the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) was being ratified in the early 1970s, SWE refused to hold its conventions in states that would not ratify it at the time. “While this form of direct action is rare, we believe the moment in history requires it,” the statement reads.

On Thursday, 55,000 guests converged on Indianapolis for Gen Con, touted as North America’s largest and longest-running gaming convention. The president of Gen Con, David Hoppe, was vocal about how angry he was about the near-total ban on abortions in Indiana.

“Passage of Senate Bill 1 (SB1) will have an impact on our stakeholders and attendees and will make it more difficult for us to remain committed to Indiana for our long-term home,” said Hoppe.

In a tweet, Hoppe stated, “We at Gen Con believe in the right to autonomy over our bodies and the right to choose. Reproductive rights are human rights. Like many of you, we are hurt, angry, and frustrated by recent events, including the recent advancement of SB1 by the Indiana General Assembly. These actions have a direct impact on our team and our community, and we are committed to fighting for safety, tolerance, and justice in all the places we operate.”

Gen Con confirmed that while some exhibitors pulled out due to SB1, it was not a substantial number with more than 500 game publishers and vendors at the convention.

“Indy is proud to have hosted Gen Con since 2003, an international convention and trade show utilizing the entire Indiana Convention Center and Lucas Oil Stadium, generating significant economic impact annually,” said Chris Gahl, senior vice president of marketing and communications, Visit Indy. “Our tourism and hospitality community works passionately to deliver an exceptional experience to Gen Con and their tens of thousands of attendees every year. We continually work with state and local leadership to ensure that Gen Con — and all our visitors — feel welcomed and appreciated. We continue to monitor the Indiana Statehouse and share feedback.”