Greg Abbott’s office reveals contract with abortion opponent

The Texas attorney general’s office paid Vincent Rue, a prominent abortion opponent, $500 an hour to coordinate expert witnesses as the state prepared to defend the House Bill 2 abortion law in court, according to a contract that the agency had sought to keep confidential.

The American-Statesman had requested a copy of Rue’s litigation-consultant contract in early August, when the Florida psychotherapist’s work for Attorney General Greg Abbott’s office became a major point of contention during a five-day federal court trial over HB 2.

Abbott’s office had refused, saying the document was exempt from disclosure under state law. The agency reversed course this week when its Open Records Division — which must review every attempt to withhold information requested under the Texas Public Information Act, even if it involves another section of Abbott’s office — determined that the contract was a public document.

In the meantime, hiring Rue as a trial consultant backfired when U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel overturned key parts of the state’s sweeping abortion law on Aug. 29, ruling that Rue’s involvement undermined the credibility of the state’s expert witnesses.

Yeakel also admonished Abbott’s office over its strenuous pretrial fight to withhold Rue’s email exchanges from lawyers for abortion providers, writing that he was “dismayed by the considerable efforts the state took to obscure Rue’s level of involvement with the experts.”

According to Rue’s contract, he was an independent contractor who could be paid no more than $40,000, plus expenses. Other documents show he was paid just over $42,000, but a breakdown of expenses wasn’t available.

Other contract provisions enhanced privacy:

• Rue couldn’t issue press releases or make public announcements about his work.

• The document specifies that Rue had a “confidential relationship” with Abbott’s office in connection with the court case.

• No written reports could be generated without prior approval from the office.

The decision not to release the contract to the Statesman came two weeks after state lawyers argued — unsuccessfully — that emails between Rue and the state’s expert witnesses were protected from disclosure.

Yeakel allowed the documents to be projected onto a courtroom screen so the experts could be shown exchanges in which they discussed Rue’s suggestions — including additions and deletions — for preparing reports and written testimony for the trial. Each witness denied that they were improperly coached or influenced, testifying that Rue offered only editing help and suggested sources of information to help with their reports.

Yeakel believed otherwise, according to his ruling, and Rue’s involvement continues to be a point of contention as the HB 2 legal challenge moves into its next phase — a review by the federal appeals courts.

In a brief to the U.S. Supreme Court, abortion providers complained that Abbott’s expert witnesses relied on talking points provided by Rue, who has no medical training, instead of their own knowledge about the issues. Emails showed Rue drafted one expert’s rebuttal report before the expert “had ever seen the report … that she was rebutting,” they argued.

Abbott responded that the “fixation” on Rue was a red herring.

“Dr. Rue’s experience assisting other states in a similar capacity in similar cases made him an asset to the state’s defense, particularly in light of the very short amount of time the state had to prepare for this expert-heavy trial,” Abbott told the Supreme Court.

Rue’s history in the anti-abortion movement should raise no questions of improper influence on expert witnesses, Abbott added, noting that three experts testifying for the other side were abortion doctors or employed by abortion advocates.

“All of this is unexceptional,” he told the court. “As one would expect, experts and consultants who are willing to assist abortion providers in attacking abortion regulations tend to support abortion rights, while experts and consultants who are willing to testify in favor of abortion restrictions tend in the opposite direction.”

It isn’t known if the arguments over Rue were noted by the Supreme Court, which ruled last month — without comment — that while HB 2 is on appeal, Texas couldn’t enforce a requirement that all abortions be performed in clinics that meet the same standards as ambulatory surgical centers. The regulation had left only seven abortion clinics operating in Texas.

The case is back at the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which will determine whether the surgical-center requirement is constitutional.

Rue became a fixture in the nation’s abortion debate in the early 1980s, when he posited a psychological condition termed “post-abortion syndrome” to describe trauma experienced by women and men resulting from their experience with abortion.

According to his online biography, Rue is a 30-year psychotherapist and director of the Institute for Pregnancy Loss in Jacksonville, Fla., described as a nonprofit research and treatment center. His speaking engagements often focus on treating men “who have lost a child to abortion,” an affiliated website said.

In recent years, he also has worked as a consultant for several states, including Alabama and Wisconsin, defending abortion regulations from court challenges.

Rue didn’t respond to requests for comment.

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