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​The US Government Has Paid Anti-Abortion Activists $658,000 for 'Expert Testimony'

State records reveal that an industry of "experts"—all anti-abortion activists—have been paid with our tax dollars to testify false abortion statistics and research at legislative hearings.
November 17, 2014, 4:15pm

According to a West Virginia law known as the "Women's Right to Know Act," the state's department of health is required to publish an extensive booklet on abortion, and doctors are required to give the booklet (or its ​online equivalent) to the pregnant women they treat.

The booklet is not only full of unnecessary and manipulative photographs of fetus fingers, it also contains outright false information that has absolutely no basis in accepted medical science. For instance, page 15 of West Virginia's state-mandated information booklet says:

"Many women suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Syndrome following abortion. PTSD is a psychological dysfunction resulting from a traumatic experience."

Symptoms listed include guilt, depression, suicidal thoughts, flashbacks, nightmares, and more. All are indeed symptoms of PTSD—the only problem is that no connection exists whatsoever between abortion and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

According to the American Psychological Association, "There is no credible evidence that a single elective abortion of an unwanted pregnancy in and of itself causes mental health problems for adult women."

The APA made the ​announcement in 2008 after evaluating every single empirical study on the connections between abortion and mental health that was published in peer-reviewed medical journals from 1989 onward.

West Virginia is hardly alone among US states that mandate health professionals lie to pregnant women. The Louisiana Department of Health ​site on abortion risks conflates abortion with increased breast cancer risk, despite the fact that everyone from the ​US National Cancer Institute to the ​American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists have announced multiple times that studies show ​no existing link between breast cancer and a woman's abortion history.

"This misinformation is out there, be it about breast cancer, mental health, or fetal health. And it just keeps coming back like a whack-a-mole, even thought it's been discredited so many times," Elizabeth Nash, Senior State Issues Associate at the ​Guttmacher Institute, told VICE. "It makes it easier to adopt more abortion policy restrictions just because people have heard this stuff."

But if this bunk science has been discredited time and time again, how does it worm its way into state policy?

According to a new ​investigation by RH Reality Check, announced Thursday, a network of "False Witnesses" has spent years building an industry around propagating false research and bunk science.

Similar to the ​climate change denial movement, the 14 "False Witnesses" investigated by RH Reality Check not only run pseudo-medical front groups, they are also regularly paid big bucks by the US government to testify at court hearings and legislative sessions.

"They are in the business of manufacturing doubt," said RH Reality Check's Vice President of Investigations and Research Sharona Coutts in a teleconference with reporters (as well as her co-author Sofia Resnick) Thursday. "What we found is that collectively, since 2010, these 14 individuals have earned nearly $658,000 from their so-called 'expert testimony' for attorneys general. And in many cases, the testimony was thrown out by judges. But they continue to benefit from the False Witnesses industry."

And that industry—professionally testifying at trials and legislative hearings—creates a record of seemingly legitimate discourse about abortion that makes it appear as if the medical community can't agree on the subject. In fact, every major medical association has said repeatedly that abortion is one of the safest medical procedures a person can have.

"You'll have someone show up in the legislature and tell lies, and then the courts will turn to these transcripts of legislative hearings as facts," Coutts told VICE. "That's how we see these findings make their way up the legislative chain."

Basically, as long as an anti-abortion crazy has some kind of medical credentials, the government will pay them to provide "balanced" testimony. And that testimony, no matter how discredited by the majority of the medical field, ends up influencing state legislation.

Boom! That's how you get laws that say teenage girls seeking abortion have to be cross-examined by a ​fetus lawyer, and laws that force doctors to lie to their pregnant patients and tell them abortion puts them at greater risk of breast cancer and causes PTSD.

"So you can have an entire body of well-crafted research, and one person's opinion on the other side saying they disagree—and therefore you've created a controversy that's supposed to be dealt with by the courts," Nash told VICE.

VICE examined ​contracts between the State of Wisconsin and four anti-abortion activists called in as medical experts in the 2013-2014 trial Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin v. JB Van Hollen. The "experts," Vincent Rue, James Anderson, Geoffrey Keyes, and John Thorp, were paid a cumulative amount of $141,612 for their testimony based on false and discredited science.

The total income level that RH Reality Check found (nearly $658,000 to various abortion foes since 2010) is likely just a fraction of what the US government actually paid to anti-abortion "experts," since only some states complied with the investigators' records requests. Nine states released financial records showing they paid anti-abortion trial witnesses: Alabama, Alaska, North Dakota, Texas, Wisconsin, Oklahoma, Idaho, New Jersey, and Indiana.

But RH Reality Check's investigators requested records for every state in the US. Most have yet to respond; others responded vaguely, saying that records did not technically match the exact language in the request.

Coutts and Resnick found court records that showed some of the "False Witnesses" had testified in states, like Mississippi, that did not respond to records requests. That means there's potentially a lot more money being spent on these guys than what has already been proven.

As more state records come in, said Coutts, they will be added to the RH Reality Check database.

Rue is best ​known as the marriage counselor that invented the phantom ailment "Post-Abortion Syndrome," and ​referred to abortion in cases of rape as "capital punishment of the fetus" in his 1990 testimony in Pennsylvania's landmark Planned Parenthood v. Casey trial.

According to records that RH Reality Check obtained, Rue has been paid tens of thousands of dollars in testimony and consulting fees by the states of Alabama, Alaska, North Dakota, Texas, and Wisconsin.

If it seems weird that the US government is paying anti-abortion activists to tell lies in court, it's even stranger that Rue was essentially hired as a sort of talent agent—tasked with curating a whole group of anti-abortion dudes to testify in Wisconsin.

As Rue's Wisconsin state ​contract put it:

"Dr. Rue will assist the Department in the development of case strategy, procurement of expert witnesses and be a liaison between the Office and the experts, as well as assist in discovery and trial preparation."

But not everyone thinks hiring extremist wingnuts to testify at trials and help influence legislation is a good idea.

In September, Texas District Court judge Lee Yeakel ​expressed outrage at Rue's hiring in that state, saying that Rue had exerted total control over the testimony of the cadre of hired anti-abortion witnesses he brought along with him—and that the state of Texas covered it up.

"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," wrote Yeakel. "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."

Alabama District judge Myron Thompson jumped into the ring in late October, ​slamming the state for hiring Rue and two of his cadre of anti-abortion "witnesses," Thorp and Anderson.

"Either [Anderson] has extremely impaired judgment; he lied to the court as to his familiarity with Rue; or he is so biased against abortion that he would endorse any opinion that supports increased regulation on abortion providers," wrote Thompson. "Any of these explanations severely undermines Anderson's credibility as an expert witness."

Still, the false testimony of these "expert" witnesses have had a direct influence on legislation. Guttmacher research on state ​counseling and waiting periods for abortion found that out of 24 US states that require pregnant women be told about the potential risks of abortion, many include false information that has been discredited multiple times by the country's major medical associations based on years of peer-reviewed research studies. In other words, these states force doctors and other medical professionals to lie to patients even when they know they are giving them inaccurate medical information.

States that mandate doctors lie to patients and say there's a link between breast cancer and abortion:  ​Alaska

States that mandate doctors lie to patients and say there's a link between future fertility and abortion:
​South Dakota
​West Virginia

States that mandate doctors lie to patients and say that abortion causes negative emotional effects like PTSD and "Post-Abortion Syndrome":
​North Carolina
​South Dakota
​West Virginia

States that mandate doctors tell patients that personhood begins at conception (when a sperm fertilizes an egg):
​North Dakota
​South Dakota

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