This summer, as the Texas attorney general fought to uphold the sweeping anti-choice laws that threatened to shutter most of that state’s abortion clinics, lawyers for the clinics figured out that there was a puppet master pulling the invisible strings attached to many of the state’s so-called expert witnesses.
Vincent M. Rue, a discredited anti-choice activist who has been derided by judges around the country, was not only raking in money as a “consultant” to the state during this litigation; he was actually drafting and altering the written reports of the experts he’d helped the state hire to defend its regressive laws.
The clinics’ lawyers demanded that the state hand over emails between Rue and the other experts. But the state fought that request, claiming that Rue’s correspondence was exempt from Texas’ otherwise broad laws that allow the public access to state documents.
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And well might they have wanted to keep these emails secret, because as Rewire has found, their contents are deeply embarrassing to the attorney general, to Rue, and to three of the experts with whom he was corresponding.
The emails (view them here) show Texas’ key consultant putting words into the mouths of these experts, attempting to persuade them to selectively exclude data that did not match his anti-choice bias, and, in one case, walking extremely close to the line of outright ghostwriting what were supposed to be independent reports.
One of the experts whose correspondence with Rue we have obtained is Deborah Kitz, of Broshar Consulting, a Pennsylvania-based company that focuses on advising clients about ambulatory surgical facilities.
“Vince – I see that ‘my’ report that you returned to me yesterday references my review of an expert report from a Dr. Layne-Farrar,” Kitz wrote in a June 20, 2014 email to Rue. “I have not ever seen such a report. To what does that refer?”
Rue had not stopped at including references to a paper that Kitz had not ever seen into her expert report. He had added her digital signature to the document.
“For the future, to protect all concerned, please do not attach my signature to any report until I send an email providing an ‘OK to sign,’” Kitz wrote.
Kitz told Rewire that she had “no comment” for this story. Rue did not return our email seeking his comments, but in an email reply to Kitz on the same day, he sought to reassure her that he had attached Kitz’s signature to the altered report as part of his “quick edits” and that he would “never submit any work product without your explicit authorization.”
An exchange from a week later shows Rue trying to persuade another expert to leave out data that undermined the state’s anti-choice case.
On June 27, 2014, Peter Uhlenberg, a professor of sociology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, sent Rue his revised expert report, having added a few paragraphs at Rue’s suggestion.
However, Uhlenberg declined to follow all of Rue’s guidance.
“I did not comment on the increasing share of abortions occurring in ASCs [ambulatory surgical centers], because the share dropped in 2012,” Uhlenberg explained. “I think that could be used against us.”
Rue replied later that day, with a suggestion that is difficult not to interpret as prompting Uhlenberg to exclude relevant data and produce a dishonest report.
“Perhaps you could avoid using 2012 data as it has not been uploaded yet to the DSHS [Department of State Health Services] website?” Rue wrote. “What do you think?”
Uhlenberg did not reply to our emailed request for comment.
These emails are further evidence of the role Rue plays in states that are seeking to pass or defend anti-choice laws. Rewire earlier reported that documents we obtained from Alaska show Rue acting as the point person when it came to chasing down overdue payments to the experts he coordinates.
Fresh in these emails, however, is the public’s ability to see exactly how Rue has effectively shaped and directed what these experts say—and, equally important, what they leave out.
Based on these emails, it is difficult to maintain any pretense that Rue and his coterie of experts can provide objective testimony. These emails make clear that he is an anti-choice activist who has been able to further his quest on the taxpayer dime.
Sofia Resnick contributed to this report.