A Nebraska teenager took a plea deal Monday in a case involving her alleged self-managed abortion with pills from last year. Celeste Burgess, 18, pleaded guilty to a felony charge of concealing or abandoning a dead body; in exchange for the plea, prosecutors dropped two misdemeanor charges of concealing the death of another person and false reporting.
Madison County prosecutors claim that, in April 2022, Burgess took abortion pills her mother ordered, gave birth to a stillborn fetus estimated to be about 29 weeks’ gestation, then burned and buried the remains with the help of her mom and another person. Burgess was 17 at the time, but was charged as an adult.
She faces up to two years in prison, and her sentencing hearing is scheduled for July 20. Prosecutors agreed not to make a sentencing recommendation as part of the plea. The state also charged her mother, Jessica, for allegedly providing Celeste with abortion pills—those felony charges are performing/attempting an abortion over 20 weeks and performing an abortion by a non-licensed doctor. The elder Burgess has pleaded not guilty and is due back in court on July 7; she faces up to eight years in prison.
At the time of the incident, abortion was banned after 20 weeks post fertilization in Nebraska (or 22 weeks after the last menstrual period), though that law applies to licensed abortion providers, not people self-managing their own terminations. Gov. Jim Pillen (R) signed an even more restrictive 12-week ban into law on Monday.
Self-managed abortion is only explicitly illegal in two states (Nevada and South Carolina), but, as this story shows, prosecutors can and do charge people for other crimes related to abortion, miscarriage, or stillbirth. In this case, someone tipped off police that Celeste had a stillbirth and buried the remains, and then the cops obtained a warrant for Facebook messages between Celeste and her mother. Facebook parent company Meta complied and provided the messages, in which the pair allegedly discussed ending Celeste’s pregnancy with pills. A friend of Celeste’s also told the police she was there when Celeste took the first abortion pill.
While abortion-related internet activity is definitely risky in a post-Roe world, the biggest criminalization risk is other people. As my colleague Kylie Cheung reported last year, “In the majority of cases in which pregnant people faced criminal charges for self-managed abortion in the past two decades, they were reported to law enforcement following in-person interactions—by doctors and acquaintances.”
People who need assistance self-managing a miscarriage or abortion can call the Miscarriage + Abortion Hotline at (833) 246-2632 for confidential medical support, or the Repro Legal Helpline at (844) 868-2812 for confidential legal information and advice.