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Nebraska Mom Accused Of Helping Teen Daughter Induce Abortion After Authorities Uncover Facebook Private Messages

Authorities say 17-year-old Celeste Burgess was around 23 weeks pregnant when her mother, Jessica Burgess, allegedly instructed her in private Facebook messages to take two abortion pills to end the pregnancy. The prosecution comes on the heels of the Supreme Court's overturning of federal abortion protections.

By Jill Sederstrom
this photo illustration the Social networking site Facebook is displayed on a laptop screen

A Nebraska mother is facing felony charges for allegedly helping her teen daughter induce an abortion after authorities discovered Facebook messages between the pair discussing taking an abortion pill and the teen’s desire to be free of the pregnancy.

Jessica Burgess, 41, is now facing five criminal charges after authorities say she helped her then-17-year-old daughter Celeste Burgess, who is being tried as an adult, abort the pregnancy at around 23 weeks, then burn and bury the fetus outside of town, according to the Lincoln Journal Star.

Madison County Attorney Joseph Smith told the paper it’s the first time he has filed charges for illegally performing an abortion in his 32 years as the county’s prosecutor.

Nebraska passed a law in 2010 restricting abortion after 20 weeks, but state-level abortion bans weren’t enforceable in the country until the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in June.

“I don’t think I’ve ever had a case like this,” Smith said. “Usually, abortions are performed in hospitals, and doctors are involved, and it’s not the type of stuff that occurred in this case.”

Jessica Burgess and her teenage daughter were initially charged in June with felony charges of removing, concealing or abandoning a body, along with two misdemeanors of concealing the death of another person and false reporting, but authorities were able to add on the additional charges against Jessica Burgess after securing search warrants for private chat messages the pair had on Facebook, according to the Associated Press.

Norfolk Police initially began an investigation after authorities received a tip from a woman who told authorities she had seen Celeste take the first abortion pill, according to court records obtained by NBC News.

When investigators approached the family, Jessica and Celeste initially told police that the 17-year-old had unexpectedly given birth to a stillborn baby in the shower early one morning.

Celeste woke her mother up and they put the baby’s body in a bag before later driving it a few miles out of town and burying it with the help of a third person, identified by the Associated Press only as a 22-year-old male.

The man, who pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor earlier this month for helping to bury the fetus, told authorities the women had burned the body before burying it on property owned by his parents.

Investigators recovered the body and noted in the court records that it had showed signs of “thermal wounds.”

Authorities decided to get a search warrant for the Facebook chats after Celeste had allegedly referred to her Facebook messages to help her re-create a timeline for when the stillbirth happened on April 22.

After securing the private Facebook chats in June, investigators discovered that two days before the stillbirth Jessica had allegedly instructed Celeste to take one of the abortion pills that she had “ordered last month” to “stop the hormones” and take a second pill 24 hours later, according to a transcript of the alleged conversation provided in the court records.

The case is one of the first to emerge after the U.S. Supreme Court’s controversial decision to overturn Roe vs. Wade in June, eliminating the federal protection and leaving it up to each individual state to determine abortion rights and restrictions.

Jake Laperruque, the deputy director of surveillance at the Center of Democracy and Technology, told NBC News he believes tech companies, like Meta—the parent company of Facebook—could see more search warrants requesting information to assist in the prosecution of abortion-related crimes.

“If companies don’t want to end up repeatedly handing over data for abortion investigations, they need to rethink their practices on data collection, storage and encryption,” he said.

In response to the recent charges in Nebraska, Meta said in its own statement that much of the reporting about their involvement in the case had been “plain wrong.”

“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,” it stated. “The warrants were accompanied by non-disclosure orders, which prevented us from sharing information about them. The orders have now been lifted.

Jessica Burgess has pleaded not guilty to the counts against her and is expected to appear in court in September, KOLN reports. Celeste Burgess has also pleaded not guilty in the case.

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