UPDATE: The Texas Senate passed sweeping new abortion restrictions late Friday, sending them to Republican Gov. Rick Perry to sign into law after weeks of protests and rallies that drew thousands of people to the Capitol and made the state the focus of the national abortion debate.
Full story here.
UPDATE 11:51 p.m. ET: Rep. Steve Stockman (R-Texas) says that police are telling pro-life advocates to leave the Texas Capitol "ASAP for their own safety."
The Texas Senate convened Friday afternoon to debate and ultimately vote on some of the nation's toughest abortion restrictions, its actions being watched by fervent demonstrators on either side of the issue.
The "circus-like atmosphere" in the Texas Capitol, the Associated Press writes, marked the culmination of weeks of protests, the most dramatic of which came June 25 in the final minutes of the last special legislative session when a Democratic filibuster and subsequent protest prevented the bill from becoming law. Abortion-rights advocates dressed in orange Friday, some carrying tampons and signs, while anti-abortion activists wore blue and held images of fetuses and Bible verses.
Police reportedly "confiscated bricks, tampons, pads and condoms protestors planned to throw at pro-life lawmakers Friday before a final vote on legislation banning abortions past five months," Townhall reports.
DPS officials [have] been searching bags before letting people into the gallery, requiring them to throw away paper goods such as magazines, receipts, feminine pads and tampons. One DPS officer said authorities had been instructed by the Senate's sergeant at arms to confiscate anything that could be thrown from the gallery at senators on the floor. She said they had already found objects such as bricks, paint and glitter in bags.
KETK has even more details, including reports of jars of feces and urine being confiscated from demonstrators:
During these inspections, DPS officers have thus far discovered one jar suspected to contain urine, 18 jars suspected to contain feces, and three bottles suspected to contain paint. All of these items - as well as significant quantities of feminine hygiene products, glitter and confetti possessed by individuals - were required to be discarded; otherwise those individuals were denied entry into the gallery.
While the latter two reports don't implicate pro-abortion activists, it wouldn't make sense for pro-life demonstrators to disrupt proceedings on a bill they want to pass.
Here's the Texas Department of Public Safety's official statement:
The Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) today received information that individuals planned to use a variety of items or props to disrupt legislative proceedings at the Texas Capitol.
Therefore for safety purposes, DPS recommended to the State Preservation Board that all bags be inspected prior to allowing individuals to enter the Senate gallery, which the State Preservation Board authorized.
During these inspections, DPS officers have thus far discovered one jar suspected to contain urine, 18 jars suspected to contain feces, and three bottles suspected to contain paint. All of these items – as well as significant quantities of feminine hygiene products, glitter and confetti possessed by individuals – were required to be discarded; otherwise those individuals were denied entry into the gallery.
In the interest of the safety and security of Texas legislators and the general public, these inspections will continue until the conclusion of Senate business.
And here's a short Vine video of an officer searching a woman's purse:
Pro-abortion activists though have questioned the DPS statement about jars of urine and feces being confiscated from protesters.
Further, DPS officers outside the Senate gallery and at each entrance to the Capitol reportedly told the Texas Tribune they had not seen or found jars containing feces or urine. The Tribune also claims multiple officers throughout the Capitol said they had not heard about the jars of excrement.
"There are hundreds of people out there posting everything they see on Twitter and Facebook. Certainly, out of 18 or 19 jars of this, a person would have put this out there. Even if you’re wearing a blue shirt, wouldn’t you post it? No one has said a word," said Sandie Haverlah, an Austin-based abortion rights activist.
Still, there was no credible evidence available that suggests the Texas DPS intentionally lied about the confiscations. It is also unclear what motive the law enforcement agency would have to mislead the public in such a manner.
The Senate's leader, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, is determined not to let anything - or anyone - derail a vote again. Senators began debate on House Bill 2 on Friday afternoon, with a vote to follow in the evening or possibly early Saturday morning.
The Texas bill would ban abortions after 20 weeks and require doctors to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals, allow abortions only in surgical centers and limit where and when women may take abortion-inducing pills. The Republican majority is expected to ultimately pass the bill, with Democrats left to do little more than enter into the legislative record material that could help defeat it in federal court.
Here are some of the signs found at Friday's demonstrations in Texas:
Abortion rights supporter Sarah Pope, left, and abortion opponent Katherine Aguillar, second from left, demonstrate at the Capitol in Austin, Texas, while the Texas Senate debates the abortion restriction bill, House Bill 2, on Friday July 12, 2013. The Texas Senate convened Friday afternoon to debate and ultimately vote on some of the nation's toughest abortion restrictions, its actions being watched by fervent demonstrators on either side of the issue. Credit: AP
Theresa Maska holds a sign supporting anti-abortion legislation outside the Texas Senate as they prepare to debate an abortion bill, Friday, July 12, 2013, in Austin, Texas. The bill would require doctors to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals, only allow abortions in surgical centers, dictate when abortion pills are taken and ban abortions after 20 weeks. Credit: AP
Assistant sergeant of arms Will Wassdorf sets up a display with rules for the gallery outside the Texas Senate chambers as he final vote by the Senate is expected to begin, Friday, July 12, 2013, in Austin, Texas. The bill would require doctors to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals, only allow abortions in surgical centers, dictate when abortion pills are taken and ban abortions after 20 weeks. Credit: AP
Dozens of extra state troopers guarded the gallery and patrolled the hallways Friday, which filled quickly with vocal activists. Opponents of the bill settled on the main floor of the rotunda, displaying homemade "wanted" posters of several prominent Republican lawmakers and chanting "Whose choice? Our choice!" Supporters of the bill competed to be heard, some praying and holding up crosses and signs that read: "We choose life."
Troopers thoroughly checked the bags of person entering the gallery, which holds almost 500 spectators. Senate Sergeant-At-Arms Rick DeLeon said no props - including speculums and coat hangers - would be allowed into the Senate gallery, per decorum rules.
Troopers tossed tampons, perfume bottles, moisturizers, pencils and other things into the garbage. The leader of the chamber's Democrats, Sen. Kirk Watson of Austin, later said he intervened to stop troopers from confiscating feminine hygiene products from women seeking to watch the debate.
Each spectator was issued a copy of the rules of decorum, which stipulate there can be no demonstrations or attempts to disrupt the chamber's work. The Texas Constitution gives Dewhurst the authority to jail those who break those for up to 48 hours, no court necessary.
"We're going to have strict enforcement. If there are any demonstrations, we are going to clear the gallery," Dewhurst said Thursday.
Republican Sen. Dan Patrick, a chief proponent of the bill, said before the session began that Democrats will be allowed to argue the bill for a while, but if debate goes on too long, Republicans will move to cut off debate.
"I'm not going to let it go on forever tonight," he said.
Sen. Glen Hegar of Katy, the bill's Republican author, said Friday that all abortions should take place in an ambulatory surgical center in case there are any complications, including abortions induced through medications.
Democrats pointed out that childbirth is more dangerous and there have been no serious problems with women taking the abortion drugs at home. They also planned to introduce numerous amendments to add exceptions for cases of rape and incest and to remove some of the more restrictive clauses.
Dewhurst's political survival relies on the bill's passage. Once considered a formidable politician, Dewhurst bid goodbye to his Senate colleagues in 2011, expecting to easily win a U.S. Senate seat. But tea party favorite Ted Cruz painted him as a moderate, and now he has three challengers in the Republican primary for re-election.
Democrats successfully blocked the bill in the regular legislative session. During the first special session, the Senate didn't take up the bill until the final day. That allowed Fort Worth Sen. Wendy Davis to use a filibuster to delay a vote. When Republicans rushed to try to pass the bill in the session's final 15 minutes, angry protesters began shouting and screaming from the gallery. Dewhurst could only watch with frustration as a half-dozen state troopers tried to remove more than 450 people.
The restrictions are a top priority for the Christian conservative voters who make up a majority of Texas Republican voters and want abortions banned.
Democrats, however, see an opportunity that could help them break a 20-year statewide losing streak. They believe Republicans have overreached in trying to appease their base and alienated suburban women, a constituency that helped President Barack Obama win re-election.
The measures under consideration Friday mirror restrictions passed in Mississippi, Ohio, Oklahoma, Alabama, Kansas, Wisconsin and Arizona, but passing them in the nation's second-most populous state would be a major victory for the anti-abortion movement.
Only five out of 42 existing abortion clinics meet the requirements to be a surgical center, and clinic owners say they can't afford to upgrade or relocate.
Republicans insist the restrictions would guarantee better health care for women and fetuses. But critics see it as a way of regulating all Texas abortion clinics out of business.
There's one thing both sides can agree on: Abortion rights groups will file a federal lawsuit as soon as Republican Gov. Rick Perry signs the bill into law. Judges elsewhere have stopped enforcement of similar laws while they work their way to the U.S. Supreme Court.
The Associated Press contributed to this report. This story has been updated.