Four anti-abortion expert witnesses in Texas were dismissed by a federal judge for improperly allowing a state employed consultant to have significant editorial and creative liberty over their opinions. In a decision that struck down portions of the state’s anti-abortion provision, Federal District Court Judge Lee Yeakel issued a strong reproach over the manner in which the Texas attempted to influence its expert testimony during the trial.
Texas Anti-Abortion Statute Limited
Late in August, Judge Yeakel issued an opinion that struck down provisions of Texas’ anti-abortion law that required rigorous accreditation for all abortion clinics in the state. Under the Texas law, abortion clinics would need to meet the same medical standards as ambulatory surgical centers, which would have required significant structural changes to room and door size along with installation of anesthesia pipelines. All but a few of the abortion clinics in the state would have been forced to close had the new provisions been upheld, but Judge Yeakel determined that the regulation was an unconstitutional burden on the right of women to choose abortion.
The focus of his decision was, as Judge Yeakel wrote, the fact that the law’s requirement “burdens Texas women in a way incompatible with the principles of personal freedom and privacy protected by the United States Constitution for the 40 years since Roe v Wade,” but the judge included a footnote that fired a direct criticism at the State’s use of an anti-abortion expert witness.
Federal Judge Condemns Texas Evidence in Anti-Abortion Case
In dismissing Texas’ abortion clinic requirements, Judge Yeakel cited a “dearth of credible evidence” that the law would make abortion clinic’s safer for women – a key component of conservative lawmakers’ justification for the enhanced medical standards. As part of its failed argument, Texas presented four expert witnesses to testify about medical conditions of abortion clinics and psychological effects of abortion, all of whom attempted to convince the court that strict abortion restrictions were justifiable.
Judge Yeakel was not only unconvinced by the testimony from Texas’ experts, but found troubling evidence that all four of the State’s expert witnesses were strongly influenced by Vincent Rue, an influential anti-abortion consultant who has a checkered relationship with the American legal system.
Texas Conceals Involvement of Discredited Expert Witness
Rue, who helped legislators write the new anti-abortion bill, is a marriage therapist with a doctorate in family relations who has built a long career of passionate anti-abortion advocacy across the country. His professional reputation was built largely on his coinage of the term post-abortion stress syndrome, which is a condition unrecognized by any professional psychological association and roundly rejected by many clinicians, including former US Surgeon General, C. Everett Koop.
The legal system, too, has discredited Rue, most notably in the significant case Planned Parenthood v Casey in which his expert testimony was described as “devoid of analytical force and scientific rigor [and his] personal opposition to abortion suggests a possible personal bias.” Rue has been recognized by courts and abortion proponents as a biased source of anti-abortion information, severely diminishing his involvement as an expert witness. Texas officials, who paid Rue over $42,000, seemed to understand the risks of involving him at trial, and kept his involvement largely behind the scenes during the proceedings.
Plaintiff’s attorneys, however, were able to demonstrate via emails and testimony that Rue had a strong guiding hand in crafting the arguments and compiling the factual content that informed each of Texas’ four expert witnesses’ opinions.
Judge Dismisses Four Anti-Abortion Expert Witnesses
As the details of Rue’s involvement became clear, Judge Yeakel did not hesitate to dismiss the expert’s contributions to the trial. Yeakel condemned the State’s tactics, writing, “The credibility and weight the court affords the expert testimony of the State’s witnesses Drs. Thompson, Anderson, Kitz, and Uhlenberg is informed by ample evidence that, at a very minimum, Vincent Rue, Ph.D, a non-physician consultant for the State, had considerable editorial and discretionary control over the contents of the experts’ report and declarations. The court finds that, although the experts each testified that they personally held the opinions presented to the court, the level of input exerted by Rue undermines the appearance of objectivity and reliability of the experts’ opinions. Further, the court is dismayed by the considerable efforts the State took to obscure Rue’s level of involvement with the experts’ contributions.”
Rules of evidence require that expert witnesses be open and honest about how all opinions that comprise testimony are formed. This enables opposing parties to directly challenge an expert, and allows judges and juries to determine how much weight to give expert testimony. By allowing four experts to build their testimony, either in whole or in part, on the opinions and ideas of Vincent Rue, Texas misused its expert witnesses and received a stern reprimand from the federal court.