What meeting planners who support women’s rights can do

meeting planners support women
The U.S. Supreme Court has overturned Roe v. Wade. 58% of U.S. women of reproductive age live in states hostile to abortion rights. Meanwhile, six out of 10 Americans — 61 percent — say they support abortion rights. What can meeting planners who support women’s rights do?

Here are two concrete suggestions for action:

  1. Refuse to source venues in states with anti-abortion laws.
  2. Include clauses in future contracts that allow for cancellation if subsequent legislation in the event’s jurisdiction is in conflict with a client’s mission.

You won’t be alone in taking this action. According to a recent survey by Northstar Meetings Group:

“Forty-three percent of the 281 planner respondents to NMG’s Flash Survey fielded from May 13 to May 17 said state-by-state abortion laws will impact their organizations’ site-selection decisions. Of those planners, more than 80 percent say they will favor states that allow abortion, with 54 percent reporting they “will not meet in states with anti-abortion laws.”

1. Refuse to source venues in states with anti-abortion laws

Many meeting planners have considerable influence on venue selection. If you’re one of them, you can support a woman’s right to bodily autonomy by refusing to source venues in states with anti-abortion laws. These laws are changing as some states rush to make abortion illegal. A good resource for current state policies is the Guttmacher Institute. The map below shows abortion policies and access as I write this; click on it to view the current status.

meeting planners support women
US state abortion policies and access as of 6/22/22. Click on graphic to see current map.

Some argue that doing this will change nothing and will only hurt destinations in such states. I disagree. There are plenty of examples of successful boycotts. In the current situation, where the lives and health of about 300,000 U.S. women per year are threatened, in my opinion it’s immoral to do nothing.

2. Include anti-discrimination clauses in future contracts

An excellent article clearly by Northstar Meeting Group provides examples of anti-discrimination clauses in contracts. These can allow clients to cancel contracts when the legal situation in the venue’s jurisdiction changes between the time that the contract is signed and the event takes place. The article’s survey reports that 72% of planners are considering adding such clauses to their contracts going forward.

From Northstar Meeting Group May 13, 2022 survey.

Some say that venues in anti-abortion states will resist or refuse such changes. Even if that is the case, bringing up the issue makes such businesses aware that there is a cost to doing business in an anti-abortion environment. Many of the successful boycott examples I referenced above were aided by the support of businesses concerned about or experiencing the effect of local protests.

Meeting planners: support women’s rights!

State sanctions that force pregnant women to give birth regardless of circumstances are barbaric. We don’t force someone to donate a kidney to save the life of another person. We don’t even force the giving of an organ at the time of the donor’s death to save the life of another person. Anti-abortion laws, on the other hand, remove women’s bodily autonomy, inflicting risks and suffering without a woman’s consent. And the consequences are life-altering for the woman, to say the least.

As Robert Reich put it:

Avoiding doing business in states with anti-abortion laws is a small but important way meeting planners can support women’s rights.

2 thoughts on “What meeting planners who support women’s rights can do

  1. Yes, and …: it is ‘that’ simple and otherwise complex. For many associations, meetings, annual meetings in particular, are booked years out. For city-wide meetings, often 10 years out. In the ’80s, I worked with attorneys to develop clauses that are similar to the one ASAE developed as we began to see so-called “Bathroom Bills” make their way through state legislatures. Alas, too few clients understood that ‘one day’ the issues that were important to them would be a concern for where their meetings were held and the language was not negotiated.

    Our industry and people in general do what my late grandmother said – “see the pretty birdy” – that is, just gloss over what may cause trouble and don’t look to history and build on it. It is past time but still time to reconsider what an organization stands for – what their ethics’ policy states, what their DEI positions are – and how changes in laws may impact not just the PR issues but the real life issues. We don’t know yet, and won’t know until the first lawsuits occur what will happen if someone pregnant has complications during a meeting held in a US state (or in a country like Poland) with restrictions on reproductive rights and tries to seek care if the person will be charged with trying to abort. Miscarriages and abortions – from what I’ve read and am re-reading – mirror each other in what happens to a body. (I’ve never been pregnant intentionally.) What will the consequences be?

    As Jeff King, Esq., long the EIC legal counsel, said to me in the ’80s: “It doesn’t matter if you’re right or wrong, you can still be sued.” And so it may result from attending a meeting.

    It IS more than “brain surgery” to consider all the duty of care issues when booking and planning and executing a meeting.

    1. I continue to admire you, Joan, for your decades of advocating for our entire industry, especially overlooked and marginalized members. You have always considered the big picture and the long term, with duty of care top of mind.

      Yes, those with future bookings set in stone who didn’t heed your warnings are in trouble. But since COVID arrived, I’m hoping that increasing numbers of clients have and will become far more cautious making future commitments without protecting themselves better from issues you’ve been warning about for years.

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