The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) has scrapped a plan to hold its 2023 annual clinical and scientific meeting in New Orleans, saying it cannot convene in a place where its members might face punishment for providing or even discussing abortion care.
The nation’s largest OB-GYN group said it hopes other medical organizations follow suit by refraining from holding events in states with restrictive abortion laws.
ACOG 2023 Annual Clinical & Scientific Meeting Will Not Be Held in Louisiana
ACOG will be relocating next year’s Annual Clinical & Scientific Meeting from New Orleans, Louisiana, to a state whose climate is consistent with our values. Holding the nation’s largest gathering of obstetrician-gynecologists in a location where the provision of evidence-based care is banned or subject to criminal or other penalties is directly at odds with our mission and values.
Our annual meetings are the source of learning, camaraderie, community, and strength. It is important that our national flagship meeting be held in a location that shares our values, protects our members as they do their jobs, and provides patients with full access to reproductive health care. We look forward to announcing our new location whose laws allow our members to provide and our patients to receive evidence-based care without fear of criminal prosecution or other penalties.
— ACOG Statement to Members
Louisiana is among 13 states with trigger laws that would outlaw abortion if the US Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade, which is anticipated based on a majority draft opinion leaked earlier this month. Conservative lawmakers in the state have pushed a bill that would allow women who obtain abortions, and physicians who provide them, to be charged with murder. Opponents of — which is currently in the limbo proposal — have said the proposed bill also would outlaw in vitro fertilization, intrauterine birth control devices, and emergency contraception.
Some other states that are popular sites for medical conventions, such as Georgia and Texas, severely restrict access to the procedure.
“Holding the nation’s largest gathering of obstetrician-gynecologists in a location where the provision of evidence-based care is banned or subject to criminal or other penalties is directly at odds with our mission and values,” ACOG stated in the May 13 edition of its monthly electronic newsletter, ACOG Rounds, in which the decision was announced. The decision was first reported on NOLA.com.
The Washington, DC-based society said it will move the conference, which had been scheduled for next April, to a location where public policy is more in line with its values. ACOG said it drew more than 4000 people to its 2022 conference this month in San Diego, California.
Louisiana has a long track record of restricting abortion, according to the Guttmacher Institute, which deems it to be among the most “hostile” states for abortion in a 2020 analysis, with measures such as mandated pre-abortion counseling, onerous clinic regulations, and waiting period. The state’s trigger law has been in the books since 2006.
Molly Meegan, ACOG’s chief legal officer and general counsel, told Medscape Medical News that ACOG’s decision to relocate the conference was made in response to the anticipated removal of federal protections afforded by Roe. She said ACOG members need the ability to “present, discuss, and educate” in a place where they will be “free from personal attack or legal prosecution.”
Time to “Speak, Live, and Act Our Values”
Uncertain legal ramifications of openly discussing abortion at a conference “could feel threatening” for some physicians, Sarah W. Prager, MD, professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Washington, Seattle, told Medscape. Prager, co-chair of ACOG’s Abortion Advocacy and Training Working Group, said proposed legislation in some states would target clinicians in other states who provide abortions to their residents.
“The legal landscape has changed, and our nation’s reproductive health crisis is more serious now than ever before,” Meegan said, adding that it is “time for us to speak, live, and act our values.”
Meegan said ACOG hopes the relocation “will make a clear statement that there are consequences” for enacting abortion restrictions and that “others within the medical community will join us and demonstrate the shared opposition” to interference in medical care.
So far, however, other medical organizations have not announced plans to refrain from holding events in states that severely restrict abortion.
Kelly Schulz, a spokesperson for New Orleans & Company, a marketing and sales organization for the city’s tourism industry, told Medscape that it was disappointed by ACOG’s pullout, noting that conventions put tens of thousands of New Orleanians to work. But she said she was unaware of other medical groups withdrawing their business.
Medical conferences typically are planned years in advance and involve significant financial commitments with event planners and convention centers. Breaking those contracts can be costly, according to some organizations’ officials.
Several groups that signed an ACOG amicus brief in 2021 opposing a Mississippi law at the center of the current Supreme Court case have meetings planned in states with trigger laws and other restrictive policies. Three of them told Medscape they have no plans to swap venues.
Ryan Mire, MD, president of the American College of Physicians, said the internal medicine group has not reconsidered plans to hold its 2025 annual meeting in New Orleans.
Mire said that “boycotting a meeting location eliminates an opportunity to engage, have our perspective heard and address differing viewpoints,” adding it “can be harmful to persons in the service industry, whose many employed livelihood could be put at risk and are not responsible for the actions taken by government officials and lawmakers.”
In relation, Mire said that “decisions made by other organizations should be respected” and his group “may take state-level issues into consideration when scheduling future meetings.”
The National Association of Nurse Practitioners in Women’s Health provided a statement issued to members March 10, saying it was “sensitive” to concerns about holding its Premier Women’s Healthcare Conference in Houston this fall given a Texas law banning abortion as early as 6 weeks. Texas also has a trigger law.
Still, the organization said it would stick with Houston, explaining that it had renegotiated a contract, originally signed in 2019, to “minimize the financial impact” of canceling its 2021 and 2022 in-person meetings during the COVID-19 pandemic. It added that educating the state’s large population of nurse practitioners is “vitally important to the health and safety of Texas women, pregnant people, and children.”
The American Psychiatric Association, which will hold its annual meeting in New Orleans starting May 21, told Medscape in a statement that it “does consider whether a venue has laws contrary to its policies that negatively impact mental health.”
The association said several of its members expressed concerns about Louisiana legislation that arose after its 2022 meeting planning was underway and after the organization assumed contractual obligations that could not be canceled. That may have been a reference the bill that would have classified abortion as homicide. The association did not return a request for clarification by deadline.
Other events planned in states with strict abortion laws are the American Society for Reproductive Medicine 2023 Scientific Congress & Expo (New Orleans), the National Medical Association 2022 Annual Convention and Scientific Assembly (Atlanta), and the Society of OB/GYN Hospitalists 2022 Clinic Meeting (San Antonio, Texas).
Attempts to reach those organizations for comment were not successful.
Mary Chris Jaklevic is a healthcare journalist in the Midwest.
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