A Nebraska woman has been charged with helping her teenage daughter commit an abortion after her unborn child had reached about 24 weeks of development.
Investigators obtained evidence of the late-term abortion plan after the two chatted using Facebook messages, discussing plans to use medication to induce an abortion and then to burn the human remains afterward.
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The prosecutor handling the case said it’s the first time he has charged anyone for illegally performing an abortion after 20 weeks, a restriction that was passed by the state legislature in 2010.
The investigation, which was launched in April before the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, is one of the few known instances of Facebook’s turning over information to help law enforcement officials pursue an abortion case, according to NBC News.
Before the high court overturned Roe in June, states weren’t allowed to enforce abortion bans until the point at which a fetus is considered viable outside the womb, at roughly 24 weeks.
Mother Gave Instructions to Daughter on How to End Pregnancy
In one of the Facebook messages, Jessica Burgess, 41, tells her then 17-year-old daughter Celeste that she has obtained abortion pills for her and gives her instructions on how to take them to end the pregnancy.
“Are we starting it today?” the teenager asked in messages later obtained by The New York Post.
“We can if u want, the one will stop the hormones,” Burgess replied.
Then the daughter “talks about how she can’t wait to get the ‘thing’ out of her body,” according to the messages obtained by The Post. “I will finally be able to wear jeans,” she writes in one of the messages.
Law enforcement authorities obtained the messages with a search warrant and detailed some of them in court documents. Based on medical records, the fetus was more than 23 weeks old, one detective wrote.
The women were charged in June with a felony for removing, concealing, or abandoning a body, and two misdemeanors: concealing the death of another person and false reporting. After reviewing the Facebook messages, investigators added the felony abortion-related charges against the mother.
The daughter, who is now 18, is being charged as an adult at prosecutors’ request. The case was first reported by The Norfolk Daily News.
Tried to ‘Burn The Evidence’
When they first spoke to detectives, the two said the teenager had unexpectedly given birth to a stillborn baby in the shower in the early morning hours of April 22. They said they later drove north of town and buried the body with the help of an unidentified 22-year-old man.
The man has pleaded no contest to the misdemeanor charge of helping bury the fetus on rural land his parents own north of Norfolk in northeast Nebraska. He will be sentenced later this month.
Court documents reveal the detective said the fetus showed signs of “thermal wounds” and that the man told investigators the mother and daughter did burn it. He also wrote that the daughter confirmed in the Facebook exchange with her mother that the two would “burn the evidence afterward.”
Burgess later admitted to law enforcement officials buying the abortion pills “for the purpose of instigating a miscarriage.”
According to a sworn affidavit from a detective, a friend of the teenager saw her take the first pill in April, according to NBC News.
Both of the women have pleaded not guilty, according to The Post.
Nebraska tried — but failed — earlier this year to pass a so-called trigger law that would have banned all abortions when the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. Its current 20-week abortion ban remains in effect.
The establishment news media have focused their attention on Facebook’s cooperation with law enforcement, rather than on the criminal charges of burning human remains and attempting to conceal evidence.
Facebook spokesman Andy Stone defended the way the company handled authorities’ request for information in this case after a gag order about it was lifted Tuesday.
“Nothing in the valid warrants we received from local law enforcement in early June, prior to the Supreme Court decision, mentioned abortion,” Stone said. “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.”
The social media giant said it will “always scrutinize every government request we receive to make sure it is legally valid.”
Facebook said it gave investigators information in about 88% of the 59,996 times when the government requested data in the second half of last year.
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