Abortion might have been the No. 1 topic of the special legislative session, but a related issue is emerging as No. 2: Did some protesters try to smuggle jars of human waste into the Senate chamber during the final debate last week?
The Department of Public Safety said in a press release Friday that state troopers discovered jars of suspected feces and urine that they suspected would be used to disrupt the emotionally charged Senate debate of House Bill 2, which imposes new restrictions on abortions.
The debate drew thousands of protesters to the Capitol and resulted in 12 arrests. No charges were filed.
State Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin, joined abortion rights protesters to question the DPS reports of human waste and, on Monday, officially asked DPS Director Steven McCraw for proof of the allegations.
McCraw responded to Howard in a letter Wednesday and said officers discovered protesters trying to carry what was thought to be excrement and urine into the Senate gallery. Visitors can view Senate proceedings from the third floor gallery, but they must follow the Senate’s rules of decorum, such as staying quiet and not bringing in signs.
The jars were not allowed in the gallery either, and protesters were ordered to discard the items to gain admittance, McCraw said. The articles were not confiscated, McCraw wrote, because “(p)ossession of these and other items is not a crime.”
During the debate, agency officials told news reporters that troopers discovered several possibly disruptive items including 18 jars suspected to contain feces and one bottle believed to contain urine.
McCraw listed other potentially problematic distractions in his letter and said: “It is also our contention that some visitors attempted to bring, paint, confetti, glitter, bottles of bubbles, bags of balloons (not inflated), handheld air horns, a bag full of tomatoes, and a large number of feminine hygiene products into the Senate gallery to throw onto the floor of the Texas Senate.”
Howard said she was disappointed with McCraw’s answers because of their lack of clarity.
“At the end of the day, we are still left with unsubstantiated claims, allegations of suspicious jars but no actual evidence,” Howard said. “Allegations such as these can tarnish the image of law-abiding citizens” who came to Capitol to exercise their rights of free speech, she said.
Howard had been worried that unproven claims would stain the reputation of abortion rights supporters.
Howard, along with most of the other Democrats in the Legislature, voted against House Bill 2, which would ban most abortions after 20 weeks post-conception, require physicians to have hospital admitting privileges and mandate that all abortion clinics meet standards of day surgery centers.
Gov. Rick Perry is scheduled to sign the bill into law Thursday. Opponents are expected to file suit in an attempt to stop its enactment.