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Relocation of the AEFP 2023 Conference

Read more about the AEFP decision to relocate the 2023 conference. 
Dear AEFP Community,
Following the Dobbs decision in late June, we heard from AEFP members who felt they could not risk their health and safety by traveling to Fort Worth for our 2023 annual meeting. As we noted in a statement at that time, we convened the AEFP Board of Directors to discuss our options for addressing these concerns.
After extensive discussions across multiple special sessions, the Board has voted to relocate the 2023 conference. Although our options for alternative venues were limited, we were able to secure a new location at the Grand Hyatt Hotel in Denver, Colorado. The conference will remain the same three days as previously scheduled, March 23–25, 2023.
We did not make this decision lightly, and in the spirit of transparency, we want to give our members a sense of how we arrived at it.
First, we opened each session with agreement on the shared values and priorities that would guide our discussion and ultimate decision. These values included ensuring member health and safety, maintaining an inclusive environment for our diverse membership, sustaining our organization's financial well-being, and—given that we are an association dedicated to elevating the use of evidence—giving careful consideration to the evidence guiding our own decisions, such as data from the member survey we fielded earlier in the summer.
To be clear, the Board expressly decided not to let our individual feelings about politics or policy in Texas guide our decision. AEFP is not a political organization, and we value that our members hold diverse beliefs. It is not our purpose to advocate for one set of beliefs over another. Rather, in our deliberations, the Board focused on making a decision that was the most consistent with our core values: promoting member health and safety, inclusivity, AEFP's financial well-being, and the evidence we currently have available.
Let's begin with member health and safety. Texas's abortion law creates health risks for members who might be pregnant at the time of the conference. The concern is that a member could have a pregnancy complication, even a catastrophic one, at the conference that requires reproductive health care treatment that they could not access. Texas law includes exceptions if the pregnant patient risks death or “substantial impairment of major bodily function.” However, currently there is substantial uncertainty in the legal environment—in Texas more than other states due to the potential for civil penalties under SB 8. The resulting risk aversion among health care providers in Texas heightens concerns about access to necessary health care should a serious pregnancy complication arise.
Such extreme events may be unlikely during the period of travel to a conference. However, the membership survey data suggest some members have real concerns about their personal risk. In the open-ended responses, members shared stories of past high-risk pregnancies and miscarriages—and even an acute pregnancy complication requiring treatment at a prior conference—that made them hesitant to travel to states where reproductive care might be a challenge. Overall, 24% of survey respondents said they would be unlikely or very unlikely to attend the conference if it was held in Fort Worth, and in response to a follow-up question to that group, about one-fourth cited concern about their own health and safety as the primary reason. (Many others specified concern for their fellow members' health and safety.)
We suspect that some members will think that it doesn't make sense to relocate the conference over a concern directly affecting just one-fourth of 24% of members. But here is where inclusion is important. That 6% of members is not a random subset. It is a specific population of members who will or could become pregnant, a group of often early-career scholars that we would be asking to make the difficult decision to stay home or take on the added risk of attending in person to access the opportunities to share research, collaborate, and network that the in-person conference provides. Asking a specific subgroup of members to take on that risk does not represent equitable treatment and does not contribute to making the field a “bigger tent.”
Some may argue that AEFP could (and should) instead offer a robust hybrid option, allowing at-risk members can participate remotely. However, we recognize that, with current technology, attending AEFP remotely cannot provide the same community or networking opportunities—opportunities that are especially critical for early-career members.
This brings us to financial considerations and AEFP's financial well-being. Here the Board had two main considerations. The first was that, as a lean organization, we need to host a conference that members will attend. Hotel contracts have room and food-and-beverage minimums we must meet, and the conference is a large contributor to the association's budget. As already noted, 24% of survey respondents said they were unlikely to attend a conference in Fort Worth, a number that is still 21% if you limit to those who said they attended in 2022. A reduction of 21% in in-person attendance from last year would mean a serious financial loss. When we asked if relocating out of Fort Worth would make attendance more or less likely, 47% said that it would make it more or much more likely. Bottom line: at a minimum, we need to break even on our conference expenses, which requires strong conference attendance. Survey responses suggest that strong attendance is more likely if we move the conference out of Texas.
The second element in our financial considerations was the cost of breaking the contract with the hotel in Fort Worth, totaling about $100,000. Initially, we thought this cost would be prohibitive, given the association's tight budget and the clear pattern in the membership survey data that funding this change through increases in conference fees would constitute a hardship that would make attendance less likely for many members. However, in the intervening weeks, we received new sponsorship assistance totaling enough to offset the cost, meaning we can relocate without raising conference fees.
In short, we could take a step to protect the health and safety of an important group within our membership and to increase attendance at the conference, while not passing the costs of that step on to our members. And after much deliberation, that is what the Board voted to do.
We want to emphasize that the decision to relocate from Texas this year is not meant to signal or establish new criteria for future conference locations. Texas and its particularly uncertain legal environment at the moment make this an unusual case.  
We know that some members will think the Board has made the wrong decision. AEFP's strength is that it is an organization of smart people with diverse viewpoints, and we understand why some will disagree with the Board's choice. Regardless of whether you agree, be assured that the Board took substantial time and care in making what it feels is the best decision it could in tough circumstances.  
Now it is time to get excited for a return trip to Denver in March. Next month we will release the call for proposals for the 2023 meeting, and president-elect Colin Chellman and the program committee will get to work putting together a great program. We look forward to all your proposals and to seeing everyone back in Colorado in the spring.
Feel free to reach out to any of us with questions.
Sincerely,
Jason Grissom, Colin Chellman, Katharine Strunk, Richard Bowman, and Lydia Ross AEFP Executive Committee

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