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Teen and mother accused of illegal abortion after Facebook handed their private chats over to police

Gabriella Ferlita

Published 
| Last updated 

Teen and mother accused of illegal abortion after Facebook handed their private chats over to police

Featured Image Credit: Edward George / Alamy Stock Photo / Aleksandr Davydov / Alamy Stock Photo

A teenager and her mother have been accused of undertaking an illegal abortion after Facebook handed their private chats over to the police.

Jessica Burgess, 41, has five criminal charges stacked against her, including three felonies, for allegedly helping her teenage daughter abort, burn and bury her foetus earlier in the year.

Burgess, from Norfolk, Nebraska, US, has pleaded not guilty to the charges and is waiting for a trial in Madison County District Court to go underway. 

Meanwhile, her daughter Celeste Burgess - who was 17 at the time - is now being tried as an adult under the court law and also pleaded not guilty to three charges, including a felony.

A teenager and her mother have been accused of undertaking an illegal abortion after Facebook handed their private chats over to the police. Credit: Daniel Krasoń / Alamy Stock Photo.
A teenager and her mother have been accused of undertaking an illegal abortion after Facebook handed their private chats over to the police. Credit: Daniel Krasoń / Alamy Stock Photo.

A police detective in the area launched an investigation in late April after receiving a tip that Celeste had miscarried, and she and her mother allegedly buried the body, according to a written statement.

From there, the detective was granted access to her medical records and discovered that she was allegedly more than 23 weeks - or nearly six months pregnant - when she obtained an abortion and was due to deliver on 3 July. In Nebraska, abortions are banned after 20 weeks of pregnancy.

Days later, the pair were interviewed and told the detective that Celeste had unexpectedly given birth to a stillborn baby in the shower, in the early morning hours after midnight, according to court records.

The teenager then woke up her mother, putting the foetus’ body in a bag before concealing it in the back of their van, the detective claimed.

The teenager was allegedly more than 23 weeks pregnant when she obtained an abortion. Credit: Pexels.
The teenager was allegedly more than 23 weeks pregnant when she obtained an abortion. Credit: Pexels.

Sometime after, the mother and daughter allegedly drove a few miles north of their town and buried the foetus’ body with assistance from a 22-year-old man, according to reports.

The man told the authorities that the mother and daughter attempted to burn the foetus before burying it, according to court documents.

Investigators found signs of what the detective referred to as ‘thermal wounds’ after the body was exhumed, according to court documents.

Jessica and Celeste were both charged with removing, concealing or abandoning a dead human body, a felony and a pair of misdemeanours: concealing the death of another person and false reporting.

However, one week after the pair were charged, a detective served Facebook a search warrant, allowing authorities access to Jessica and Celeste’s online accounts. 

Police found messages which suggested that the mother sourced abortion pills for her daughter. Credit: Brigette Supernova / Alamy Stock Photo.
Police found messages which suggested that the mother sourced abortion pills for her daughter. Credit: Brigette Supernova / Alamy Stock Photo.

There, police reportedly found messages which suggested that Jessica sourced abortion pills for her daughter, giving her instructions on how to administer them. 

The detective wrote in court documents: “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 afterwards.”

However, Meta stated that the warrants they received in June did not relate to an abortion, but were surrounding a police investigation of a stillborn baby.

A Meta spokesperson said in a statement: “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.”

The following month, Madison County Attorney Joseph Smith added a further two felonies to the charges against Jessica Burgess for performing or attempting an abortion on a pregnancy at more than 20 weeks and for performing an abortion as a non-licensed doctor.

The 22-year-old man was also accused of helping the pair to bury the foetus and pleaded no contest to a misdemeanour (an offence deemed as less serious than a felony), and is awaiting sentencing later in the month.

Experts have said that this case proves the importance of encrypting data and minimising the amount of data that Facebook stores from its users, whilst others believe that the company should not have complied with the search warrant.

One pop culture expert, Kiki Monique, said in a recent post about the case: “I care about why the daughter and mother had to resort to this. 

“Did they have access to medical care or were they left helpless to make a decision that could now ruin both of their lives? And will Meta make adjustments in how they comply with search warrants in the future?”

Another onlooker echoed: “It’s horrifying that this child and mother were put in this position if we had access to reproductive rights and healthcare they probably wouldn’t have been in this position.”

Tyla has contacted a representative of Meta for further comment.

Topics: News, Parenting, Health

Gabriella Ferlita
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