A Nebraska woman has been accused of helping her teenage daughter terminate her pregnancy at around 24 weeks after investigators obtained Facebook posts in which the two discussed using drugs to induce an abortion and planned to burn the fetus afterwards.
The prosecutor handling the case said it was the first time he had charged someone with illegally performing an abortion after 20 weeks, a restriction that was passed in 2010. Before the United States Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in June, states were not allowed to enforce abortion bans until a fetus is considered viable outside the womb, at around 24 weeks.
In one of the Facebook posts, Jessica Burgess, 41, tells her then 17-year-old daughter that she got abortion pills for her and gives her instructions on how to take them to end the pregnancy .
The girl, meanwhile, “talks about how she can’t wait to get the ‘thing’ out of her body,” a detective wrote in court papers. “I’m finally going to be able to wear jeans,” she says in one of the posts. Law enforcement obtained the messages with a search warrant and detailed some of them in court documents.
In early June, the mother and daughter were charged with only one crime for kidnapping, concealment or abandonment of the body, and two offenses: concealment of the death of others and false reporting. It wasn’t until about a month later, after investigators reviewed the private Facebook posts, that they added the criminal abortion charges against the mother. The girl, who is now 18, is being charged as an adult at the request of prosecutors.
Burgess’ attorney did not immediately respond to a message Tuesday, and the public defender representing the girl declined to comment.
During their first interview, the two told investigators that the teenager unexpectedly delivered a stillborn baby in the shower in the early morning hours of April 22. They said they bagged the fetus, placed it in a box in the back of their van, then drove several miles north of town, where they buried the body with the help of a 22 year old man.
The man, whom The Associated Press is not identifying because he has only been charged with a misdemeanor, has not disputed helping to bury the fetus on rural land his parents own north of Norfolk, in northeastern Nebraska. He is expected to be sentenced later this month.
In court documents, the detective said the fetus showed signs of “thermal injuries” and the man told investigators that the mother and daughter had burned him. He also wrote that the daughter had confirmed in the Facebook exchange with her mother that the two would “burn the evidence afterwards”. According to medical records, the fetus was over 23 weeks old, the detective wrote.
Burgess later admitted to investigators that he purchased the abortion pills “for the purpose of inducing a miscarriage”.
At first, the mother and daughter said they could not remember the date the stillbirth occurred, but according to the detective, the daughter later confirmed the date by checking her Facebook posts. After that, he applied for the warrant, he said.
Madison County District Attorney Joseph Smith told the Lincoln Journal Star that he never filed charges like this for illegally performing an abortion in his 32 years as a county attorney. He did not immediately respond to a message from the AP on Tuesday.
The National Advocates for Pregnant Women, which supports abortion rights, found 1,331 arrests or detentions women for crimes related to their pregnancy from 2006 to 2020.
In addition to its current 20-week abortion ban, Nebraska has 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 struck down Roe v. Wade.
Facebook spokesman Andy Stone defended the company’s handling of authorities’ request for information in the case after a gag order over the matter was lifted on Tuesday.
“Nothing in the valid warrants we received from local law enforcement in early June, prior to the Supreme Court ruling, mentioned abortion,” Stone said. “The warrants were for 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 abort. “
Facebook said officials at the social media giant “always review every government request we receive to ensure it is legally valid.”
Facebook says it will fight requests it deems invalid or too broad, but the company said it provided information to investigators in about 88% of the 59,996 times the government requested data in the second half of the year. last year.
—Josh Funk, Associated Press