While Utah's new abortion law has led Unitarians and Planned Parenthood leaders to take Salt Lake City off their national convention calendars, it has added new luster to the Beehive State for Southern Baptist and Seventh-day Adventist conference planners.
The groups are among the first to react to the abortion measure, which passed the Legislature and was signed by Gov. Norm Bangerter in late January. Most of the canceled plans follow pro-choice groups' calls for a boycott of the state's Winter Olympics bid as well as the convention and ski industry. Interest was also generated after pro-life groups countered with invitations for families and conventions to come to Utah.Even before the call for a boycott, a 10-member conference planning committee of the Unitarian Universalist Association decided against booking its 1994 general assembly in Salt Lake City because of the "political climate," said Barbara Prairie, general assembly administrator, in a telephone interview from Boston.
Planned Parenthood Federation of America will also move a regional conference scheduled for this June and national convention that had been given tentative approval for June 1993. A smaller visual learning conference will also be moved from Sundance resort to another state after a senior executive at Polaroid Corp. said she wouldn't spend corporation funds for the conference in Utah, despite Polaroid's taking no stand on social issues including abortion.
Three groups, including New York-based Impact II Teacher's Network, also canceled meeting reservations at Snowbird, said Rusty Martin, vice president of communcations and marketing. The conventions would have brought in an estimated $750,000. About 7,000 to 8,000 room nights were scheduled. A room night is one person staying one night in a room.
A Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor has also canceled a trip to keynote an environmental conference at the University of Utah later this year. The Utah Chapter of National Organization for Women also said that the Sierra Club has canceled national tours in Utah. However, the Deseret News was unable to confirm the reports.
While groups and individuals were lining up to stay out of Utah, Seventh-day Adventist officials have asked Salt Lake Convention & Visitors Bureau to give them a proposal for a general conference in the year 2000 that would bring 35,000 people to Salt Lake City. Southern Baptists also asked for information for their annual conference, which could be held in Salt Lake City as early as 1998.
"(The abortion issue) works both ways," said Richard E. Davis, bureau president, said.
Richard Gilliland, the convention bureau's vice president of marketing, said that officials from both the Southern Baptist Convention and Seventh-day Adventist General Conference contacted Salt Lake convention representatives at a recent religious conference managers' convention in Texas.
"We usually don't get this size of conventions coming in and looking at Salt Lake,"said Gilliland.
Richard Rosenbaum, vice president of business and finance for the executive committee of the Southern Baptist Convention in Nashville, said that Salt Lake City is among one of the "eight or nine" cities that he would recommend for future conventions.
He said he contacted Salt Lake representatives in Texas to tell them the abortion issue wouldn't be a problem for his convention. At the same time, he is concerned whether or not the city can meet the needs of the convention. The last gathering in New Orleans drew 38,000 "messengers" or delegates as well as another 7,000 people.
"We are one of the largest conventions of any kind in the nation," Rosenbaum said. "We think it would be a very positive experience to be there (in Salt Lake City)."
He said he doesn't believe locating the convention at the world headquarters of the LDS Church would be drawback.
Prairie said a Unitarian Universalist General Assembly search committee had recommended Salt Lake City as its choice before Bangerter signed the measure but decided to look elsewhere for a convention site because the liberal denomination has formally adopted a stand in favor of abortion.
"We won and lost the convention in the same board meeting," Gilliland said.
The religious body, which has 145,000 adult members, was scheduled to draw 3,000 delegates to its five-day annual assembly. It was expected to generate $1.5 million in economic impact.
National groups on both sides of the abortion issue have joined in calling for boycott or stepped-up visits, which may have played a part in groups coming or avoiding Utah.
For example, Dr. J.C. Willke, president of National Right to Life Committee, has called for pro-life supporters to include Utah in their summer travel plans in the organization's most recent newsletter, a spokesman for the organization said.
Religious broadcaster James Dobson also ran a similar statement on his radio program, said Susan Roylance, president-elect of the Utah Association of Women. Her group was the first to counter NOW's Utah boycott.
Last Saturday, 29 members of the NOW State Presidents/Coordinators Caucus meeting in St. Louis approved a resolution that calls for a boycott of Utah and asks that the NOW national board to pass a similar resolution in its April meeting.
Marcia Schiff, director of the Polaroid Education Program at the Boston-based Polaroid Corp., said that she couldn't sponsor a conference at Sundance because of the NOW boycott and her personal pro-choice position.
"My feeling is there is a risk that gets run when a legislature takes a very extreme position.," she said.
In August, the Polaroid Education Program was to bring between 75 and 100 teachers and consultants from around the country to Utah and pay about half of the estimated $25,000 tab for the conference. The program gives 200,000 teachers nationwide resources to instruct their pupils about instant photography. Other conference sponsors included The Sundance Institute and Salt Lake-based Children Photography Workshop.
Harry Johnson, Polaroid manager of corporate communications, defended the actions of Schiff despite the corporation's apolitical stance. He said that Polaroid executives have a right to make responsible decisions based on personal ethical concerns.
"Polaroid has not made a statement about abortion," Johnson said about Schiff's action.
Davis isn't worried about tourists and groups opting to stay out of Utah. He notes what looks to be a record year in sales at local hotels and ski resorts.
Organizers of other major conventions planned during the next three years said that they are still coming to Utah. Flora Mitchell, executive secretary treasurer of the Women's International Bowling Congress, said the congress' tournament and annual meeting scheduled in Salt Lake City in April 1994 is still on.
Convention planners also aren't worried about a 30,000-person National Square Dance Convention scheduled in June and National Association of Counties convention planned for July. Mike Stewart, Salt Lake County commissioner and president of the National Association of Counties in Washington, D.C., said his organization has received no requests to move its convention.
Which conventions aren't coming:
- Unitarian Universalist
- Planned Parenthood
- Visual Learning Conference
- Impact II Teacher's Network
- Two other unnamed meetings
Which conventions could come:
- Southern Baptist Convention
- Seventh-day Adventist