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HB2 on Trial: The Man Behind the Curtain

After sitting through the final day of testimony yesterday it became abundantly clear that Attorney General Greg Abbott and his underlings spend way more time scheming over how to sue the federal government to help their big donors than they do actually preparing for trials that impact the lives of real Texans. In the last trial over HB2, Planned Parenthood v. Abbott, the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) didn’t put on any witnesses. Now we know why. None of them are credible.

The source of most of the witness testimony in Attorney General Greg Abbott’s case is the mysterious man behind the curtain: the widely discredited, anti-choice activist Vincent Rue. According to one of the state’s witnesses, Dr. James C. Anderson, “Vince is a team player with the Attorney General.” And Abbott has paid Rue handsomely—at least $42,000—for his team playing.

Yet, despite all this team playing, the OAG was determined to keep ol’ Vinnie in the shadows. Throughout the trial, the OAG fought to keep correspondence between Rue and the OAG’s “expert” witnesses under wraps.

It’s no surprise why Abbott wanted to keep Rue’s involvement hidden. For decades, courts across the country have consistently discredited Vincent Rue and any witnesses whose testimony he was involved in:

Minnesota: Hodgson v. State of MN, 1989

“Dr. Vincent Rue possesses neither the academic qualifications nor the professional experience of plaintiffs’ expert witnesses.”

Pennsylvania: Planned Parenthood v. Casey, 1992

“…[Dr. Rue’s] testimony, which is based primarily, if not solely, upon his limited clinical experience, is not credible. His testimony is devoid of the analytical force and scientific rigor which typified the testimony of plaintiffs’ expert psychologist.”

New Jersey: Planned Parenthood of Cent. New Jersey v. Verniero, 1998

“Dr. Rue's testimony is irrelevant and unnecessary.”

Alabama: Planned Parenthood Southeast v. Strange, 2014

“[T]he court discredits Dr. Anderson’s [Rue collaborator] testimony on this point due to concerns about his judgment or honesty."

Judge Yeakel, however, wasn’t having any of it.  After consistently overruling the OAG’s objections to admitting emails between Rue and his collaborating witnesses, by the last Rue-associated witness, Judge Yeakel decided it was time to school them. He let Greg Abbott’s protégé know, in no uncertain terms, that the state cannot hire a consultant to work with witnesses on their expert reports and then attempt to shield their communications as work product. Their emails were fair game.

Aside from one witness—a Department of State Health Services employee who didn’t help the state’s case at all—all the other OAG witnesses were in cahoots with Rue.

First up was Dr. Deborah Kitz, PhD, a principal at Broshar Consulting in Philadelphia who consults on ambulatory surgical centers (ASC). Kitz tried to argue that building a smaller ASC would be much less expensive than purported, but still well over a million dollars. However, Dr. Kitz had never been to Texas before, never consulted on an abortion clinic ASC, never spoken to an abortion provider, never been in an abortion clinic and never done an assessment of the space needed for an operational abortion clinic. Oh, and it appears that Vincent Rue also had a heavy hand in drafting her expert report.

The next Rue crony up to the stand: Dr. Peter Uhlenberg, PhD, a Christian sociologist from the University of North Carolina who believes that “you shouldn’t interfere with the birth of a child” and that sociologists should test their theories against the Bible. Dr. Uhlenberg had a hard time remembering…anything. When asked specific questions about his report, he could not recall. I imagine it must be hard to remember your own expert report’s details when you did not, in fact, write the report. The good doctor was also repeatedly caught in lies about his association with Rue and when confronted with the specific emails, he played extra dumb.

The callous discussions about low-income women—those most affected by HB2—in these emails that Greg Abbott’s office fought to keep secret were deeply disturbing: "I don't think we have information on whether poor women are less likely to abort if cost increases (which is the question)." The emails also showed that Uhlenberg and Rue intentionally glossed over and excluded years-worth of data that contradicted their claims about the increasing number of ASC abortions over time.

The bright light in yesterday’s proceedings: when the plaintiffs called Mari Robinson, the executive director of the Texas Medical Board (TMB). Ms. Robinson was subpoenaed because the TMB was named as a defendant in the suit. She didn’t look happy to be there, probably because the Texas medical establishment didn’t think HB2 was medically necessary in the first place. Of 50,000 complaints filed against doctors for “conduct inconsistent with the public health and welfare,” (of which only 5-10% even result in investigations), there was only ONE pre-HB2 complaint involving an abortion provider. And the complaint was about HIPPA and required disclosures, nothing to do with patient safety. Once again, there was no defined problem—no threat to women’s health and safety—that called for the regulations in HB2. No case for HB2, no case for the OAG.

Next week—Wednesday at 10am—both parties will head back into court to deliver oral arguments. It will be interesting to hear how Greg Abbott’s office tries to minimize their embarrassing performance this week.