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Changing Abortion Laws Create Duty-of-Care Issue for Meeting Hosts

Morals and politics aside, site selection in post-Roe America presents groups with new risk-management challenges, argues one industry lawyer.

Abortion rights is an emotional and polarizing topic. As states enact new laws affecting those rights, a handful of groups have publicly changed their conference location in protest. For example, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists moved its 2023 annual clinical and scientific meeting out of New Orleans, not wanting to meet in a destination where members might face punishment for providing abortion care. Others in the meetings industry have long argued that boycotting destinations for political reasons is ineffective and counterproductive.

However, as an increasing number of states legislate against abortion services, the issue for meeting professionals is not around morals or politics, says industry lawyer Joshua L. Grimes, Esq. of Grimes Law Offices, LLC, but rather their organization’s duty of care to attendees.

Though most states with abortion bans allow exceptions in order to save the life of the mother, doctors are struggling to understand how to keep themselves out of legal jeopardy and also provide care. (Read “Doctors Fearing Legal Blowback Are Denying Life-Saving Abortions” in Bloomberg Law.)

“You might have pregnant women, or women who don't know they're pregnant, at your meeting,” Grimes says. “If you’re in one of those states [where abortion is illegal] and a pregnant woman has some health complication, but the doctors will not treat them because they're concerned that the treatment could cause them to miscarry or have another complication that would terminate the pregnancy, this becomes a very important issue for some groups.”

For most women, it’s safe to continue to work and travel during the first two trimesters of a pregnancy. At the same time, the normal rate of miscarriage is about 20 to 30 percent, with about half those miscarriages requiring a minor surgical procedure. The challenge for doctors in some states is that the procedures around miscarriages and abortions are similar.

As an article in the The Texas Tribune states, “Treatments for miscarriages and ectopic pregnancies are still legal under the state’s abortion ban, according to state law and legal experts. But the statutes don’t account for complicated miscarriages, and confusion has led some providers to delay or deny care for patients in Texas.”

Raising another question for planners, Grimes asks: “Do you have a duty to warn [attendees]?”

Lastly, he notes that risk-management concerns in anti-abortion states is not just the possibility of a lack of health care for pregnant attendees, but also liability for the host organization. “If the lack of health care causes a woman to suffer an injury, is the group going to be liable for that?” he asks.

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