Officials in Texas have launched an investigation into two Twitter accounts which they allege made "terroristic threats" to state GOP leaders who supported the recently approved bill that bans abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy.
The state's Department of Public Safety [DPS] has subpoenaed two Twitter accounts, @prisonforbush and @deniseromano for statements they made regarding the abortion legislation from July 17-19. The threatening tweets mention Gov. Rick Perry, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, and former President George W. Bush.
Twitter reportedly received the subpoena submitted by DPS Agent Jason McMurray of Tyler on July 25, which requests the names, emails, addresses, method of payment, activation date, and IP addresses of @prisonforbush, an anonymous account, and @deniseromano, belonging to Denise Romano. The social media engine has said it will respond to the subpoena by Aug. 2 unless the users appeal.
On July 18, the day Gov. Rick Perry signed the abortion bill into law, Denise Romano tweeted: "Should we execute Perry by lethal injection or stoning for all he's killed."
According to Romano's Twitter profile, she has been a resident of Austin, Texas since 2012 and often times writes satirical tweets.
While Romano is a regular user of Twitter, the other suspect, @prisonforbush, had not used the social media platform for one year before sending a barrage of 40 tweets on July 18 calling for the "crucifixion" of Gov. Perry, as well as the torture and hanging of former Vice President Dick Cheney and former President George W. Bush.
Paul Watler, current First amendment lawyer and former president of the Texas Freedom of Information Foundation, told the San Antonio Express that in order for the state police's charges of "terroristic threats" to stick, a reasonable person must fear that they were truly in danger of being harmed.
"I would question whether a reasonable person would seriously take this as intent to invoke physical harm," he said of @prisonforbush's posts, according to the San Antonio Press. "Just the fact that it would offend a reasonable person isn't enough to limit it - the user may say that it was merely hyperbolic and wasn't meant literally, and therefore it would fall to the side of free speech."
The debate regarding the new abortion bill became tense and unruly as the legislation was addressed earlier in July, with pro-abortion advocates gathering at the Capitol building to protest the passing of the bill. National coverage of the bill caused even more protesters to join the rallies.
The bill was initially supposed to be voted on by June 25, but an outburst of protesters in the Senate Gallery proved so disturbing that the legislation could not be addressed by the deadline. Democratic Senator Wendy Davis then successfully blocked the bill after an 11 hour filibuster.
Gov. Rick Perry then called a special session of the state legislature to address the bill, during which the bill was passed by a House Committee and Senate, and ultimately signed by Gov. Perry on July 18. During this three week period of debate, tensions grew high among pro-life and pro-abortion protesters.
Some protesters held signs, while others shouted obscenities at lawmakers. The Associated Press described the Texas Capitol as having a "circus-like atmosphere," and the Texas Tribune reported that the Department of Public Safety issued a statement advising police to search the bags of protesters before entering the Capitol building.
"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," the DPS statement said.
Despite the protests, Gov. Perry signed the legislation, which bans abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy and requires abortion facilities to meet the same standards as ambulatory surgical centers. The bill also requires abortion doctors to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of their clinic.
"This is an important day for those who support life and for those who support the health of Texas women," Perry said in a statement after signing the bill. "In signing House Bill 2 today, we celebrate and further cement the foundation on which the culture of life in Texas is built."