A Nebraska woman and her daughter were charged with felonies related to an abortion after authorities discovered information about the pregnancy through private messages on Facebook.
Prosecutors say Jessica Burgess, 41, acquired and gave abortion pills to her daughter, Celeste, who was 17 at the time, and then helped her bury the fetus, NBC News reports. Celeste was 23 weeks pregnant, making the termination of the pregnancy illegal in Nebraska since abortion is illegal after 20 weeks.
The investigation began in April before the US Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. Detective Ben McBride of the Norfolk Police Investigations Unit received a tip from a woman who described herself as a friend of Celeste who said she saw her take the pill in April.
McBride got a warrant in June ordering Facebook’s parent company, Meta Platforms Inc, to turn over data going back to April 15.
“I know from prior training and experience, and conversations with other seasoned criminal investigators, that people involved in criminal activity frequently have conversations regarding their criminal activities through various social networking sites, i.e. Facebook,” McBride said in the warrant application.
Officers requested account information, images, audio and visual recordings, private messages and other data.
The alleged chats obtained by officers show a user named Jessica telling a user named Celeste about “What i ordered last month” and instructing her to take two pills 24 hours apart, according to NBC News.
Jessica Burgess was charged with three felonies and two misdemeanors and Celeste was charged with a felony and two misdemeanors. All their charges were related to performing an abortion, concealing a body and providing false information. They have both pleaded not guilty.
In a statement, Meta spokesman Andy Stone emphasized that the request from law enforcement didn’t discuss abortion.
“Nothing in the valid warrants we received from local law enforcement in early June, prior to the Supreme Court decision, mentioned abortion,” Stone said.
“The warrants concerned 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 have an abortion,” he continued. “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.”
Abortion rights experts expect to see more cases like this after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade.
“The police could have decided not to charge them, but it looks like the police are throwing the book at the mother and daughter, charging them with everything from criminal abortion to false reporting,” Elizabeth Nash, a state policy analyst at the Guttmacher Institute said. “This is the kind of response we are expecting to the Dobbs decision and states’ banning abortion.”