Boycotting medical conferences in red states due to restrictive abortion laws does not help women
It's the latest example of virtue signaling
Recently a colleague alerted me to a call for boycott. A medical doctor had listed a series of conferences to boycott. They all had something in common: they were all in red states that had abortion restrictions.
Major medical conferences in Atlanta, Houston, Orlando, and Phoenix were tagged for boycott.
What's the logic?
The logic is these states have passed restrictive abortion laws. Some people attending the conference may be pregnant. There is a non-zero chance that a medical emergency will occur where they will need an abortion. They can't get an abortion. Ergo, some may die. Because some participants face a risk of death that would be different than had the conference been in San Francisco, the event should be boycotted for safety.
Interesting argument. Let's think about the general principle. The general principle is: We cannot have a conference anywhere where some person attending may have a medical issue where the standard of care is inferior to the standard of care elsewhere. That risks lives.
Of course, one doesn't have to think long to see some issues with this principle. We all know any of us can take a fall at any time and hit our heads. Very rarely, you'll have a medical issue that requires a skilled neurosurgeon to put a drill bit in your skull. The ability to get that drill bit is different where you are. It's easy to get it in San Francisco. It's harder to get it in Mangalore, India. It's hard to get it in rural America. It's hard to get it in Madagascar. It's easy to get it in Honolulu but harder to get it in Kauai.
And then one can think of other medical issues, where access to care varies by geography. There's a beautiful lodge outside of Portland where people have conferences. But you are way more likely to be attacked by a bear there than the city. And if it slashes your femoral artery, you are much more likely to exsanguinate.
All these scenarios have in common: real, but rare health emergencies that are unpredictable, and where the outcome depends on access to medical care.
If you boycott Houston, you have to boycott the lodge. If you boycott Atlanta, you have to boycott Mangalore.
Such a rule would quickly discriminate against low and middle income nations. Rural places. Such a rule is inherently unpalatable.
Now let's think about the goal. Supposedly the goal is to virtue signal on Twitter--- oh I'm sorry that's not the explicit goal. The explicit goal of any boycott is to pressure the party on the receiving end to change their policy or rule.
A strong and coordinated boycott can break a company.
But think about this rule. All of the pressure is being placed on cities, which are predominantly liberal, and pro-choice, which happened to lie in red states. The local economy may take some modest hit. Who can the locals take it out on? The Democrat they've already elected to the state house who has already voted to preserve abortion rights?
The person being hurt by the boycott are the faculty who live in that city. Students and residents in that city. Hotels in that city. Restaurants in that city. And the staff that organized the events. The politicians who created the law are not being targeted by the boycott. In fact, the boycott may very well hurt their political opponents.
One thoughtful oncologist who lives in Texas put it this way:
Why do they boycott?
If you find my argument compelling, you like me are wondering why do they do it? In half the time it takes to compile the list of conferences in red states, one could figure out that it's a self-defeating decision. So why do people propose such things?
It is just simply virtue signaling. Yet another way to create tribes of people that pledge allegiance to the same values and try to outdo each other in their devotion. A form of modern-day religion, masquerading as principled defense.
The people most susceptible to virtue signaling are often not particularly bright and painfully aware of their own limitations. Yet, like so many they feel like they deserve to be distinguished.
In the modern world, it's hard for people to distinguish themselves. There's always someone smarter than you, sharper than you, more funny than you in a world of 8 billion connected people. But there's one thing you can distinguish yourself at, quite easily, moral superiority.
That is the most parsimonious explanation for this ill conceived boycott.
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