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Nebraska Mom and Teen Daughter Face Criminal Charges for Alleged Self-Managed Abortion

Police got a warrant for Facebook messages which suggested the mother obtained abortion pills for her daughter.

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A mother and daughter in Norfolk, Nebraska, are facing felony charges for allegedly ending the teenager’s pregnancy with abortion pills, according to the Lincoln Journal Star. The alleged abortion happened before the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in June, as the investigation began in April.

Jessica Burgess, 41, pleaded not guilty to five criminal charges, including three felonies, while her daughter Celeste Burgess plead not guilty to three charges, including a felony. Celeste, who was 17 at the time of the incident, is being charged as an adult. A 22-year-old man who allegedly helped them bury the body on property his parents own pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor charge. Siouxland News identified the man as Tanner Barnhill; it’s unclear what his relationship to the Burgesses is.

The Journal Star says that a Norfolk police detective received a tip that Celeste had a stillbirth and that she and her mother buried the fetus’ body. The detective obtained Celeste’s medical records—it’s not clear how—and determined that she was at least 23 weeks pregnant at the time of the stillbirth. Abortion is banned after 20 weeks in Nebraska, though that law applies to abortion providers, not people self-managing their own terminations. (Self-managed abortion is explicitly banned in three states: Oklahoma and South Carolina, and after 22 weeks in Nevada.)

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In April, the mother and daughter showed the detective where they buried the body. Barnhill told police the Burgesses had tried to burn the body first. In June, the Burgesses were charged with removing, concealing or abandoning a dead human body, which is a felony, as well as a pair of misdemeanors: concealing the death of another person and false reporting. An April 30th autopsy confirmed the fetus was stillborn.

The detective then served a search warrant on Facebook and read messages between the mother and daughter. He reportedly found messages suggesting that Jessica obtained abortion pills for her daughter and gave her instructions on how to use them. “C. Burgess talks about how she can’t wait to get the ‘thing’ out of her body and reaffirms with J. Burgess that they will burn the evidence afterward,” the detective wrote, per the Journal Star.

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The mother was later 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. Again, these laws are not supposed to apply to self-managed abortions.

The Journal Star said the lawyer for Jessica Burgess declined to comment, and that they could not reach the attorney representing Celeste Burgess.

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This is a breaking news post that will be updated.

Update 8/10/22, 12pm: A spokesperson for Meta, Facebook’s parent company, provided the following statement:

Much of the reporting about Meta’s role in a criminal case against a mother and daughter in Nebraska is plain wrong. We want to take the opportunity to set the record straight.

We received valid legal warrants from local law enforcement on June 7, before the Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. The warrants did not mention abortion at all. Court documents indicate that police were at that time investigating the alleged illegal burning and burial of a stillborn infant. The warrants were accompanied by non-disclosure orders, which prevented us from sharing information about them. The orders have now been lifted.