Nebraska mother, teenager face charges in teen's abortion after police obtain their Facebook DMs

Nebraska mother, teenager face charges in teen's abortion after police obtain their Facebook DMs

A Nebraska mother and her teenage daughter are facing criminal charges following the teen's abortion in April in a case where police obtained their Facebook messages about the abortion through a search warrant, according to published reports.

The Lincoln Journal Star reported that then 17-year-old Celeste Burgess and her mother, 41-year-old Jessica Burgess, were charged in early June after Jessica Burgess allegedly helped her daughter abort, burn and bury her fetus. Celeste is being tried as an adult in the case.

The Norfolk Police Department originally charged both with removing, concealing or abandoning a dead human body -- a felony -- concealing the death of another person, and false reporting. Police got a tip claiming Celeste had miscarried and secretly buried the fetus with her mother's help, the report said. Investigators were able to obtain her medical records indicating she was 23 weeks pregnant at the time. Nebraska prohibits abortion after 20 weeks.

The Journal Star cited court records as saying when police originally interviewed them, Celeste Burgess said had unexpectedly given birth to her stillborn baby in the shower. She woke her mother, and they put the baby's body in a bag and later drove a few miles out of town and buried the body with the help of another man, who has already pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor, the report said.

Police then served Facebook with a search warrant to access direct messages between the mother and daughter allegedly detailing how Jessica Burgess had obtained abortion pills for her daughter and gave her instructions on how to take them, the Journal Star said. 

In July, about a month after the original charges, Jessica Burgess was also charged with two more felonies: performing or attempting an abortion on a pregnancy at more than 20 weeks, and performing an abortion as a non-licensed doctor. 

Both Jessica Burgess and Celeste Burgess pleaded not guilty to all charges last week.  

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In an emailed statement to KPIX 5, Facebook said,

"Nothing in the valid warrants we received from local law enforcement in early June, prior to the Supreme Court decision, mentioned abortion. The warrants concerned charges related to a criminal investigation and court documents indicate that police at the time were investigating the case of a stillborn baby who was burned and buried, not a decision to have an abortion.

"Both of these warrants were originally accompanied by non-disclosure orders, which prevented us from sharing any information about them. The orders have now been lifted."  

Forbes reported the case is one of the first instances of a person's Facebook activity being used to incriminate her in a state where abortion is restricted, following June's U.S. Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe v. Wade. 

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In March, CyberScoop reported that Facebook parent Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg told employees that efforts to expand encryption across the platform will protect those seeking abortions. In the wake of the Roe v. Wade decision this year, Meta announced it was among the companies offering to reimburse employees who have to travel out-of-state to seek reproductive care.

Soon after June's Supreme Court decision stripping away constitutional protections for abortions, Facebook and Instagram began immediately removing posts that offer abortion pills to women who may not be able to access them. The overturning of Roe v. Wade generated a flood of mentions across social media of abortion pills, as well as posts mentioning specific versions such as mifepristone and misoprostol, according to an analysis by the media intelligence firm Zignal Labs.

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