A Nebraska woman has been charged with helping her teenage daughter terminate her pregnancy at about 24 weeks after investigators discovered Facebook posts in which the two discussed using drugs to induce abortion and plan to stop the pregnancy. fetus afterwards.
The prosecutor handling the case said it is the first time he has prosecuted someone for illegally performing an abortion after 20 weeks, a restriction passed in 2010. Before the U.S. 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 about 24 weeks.
In one of the Facebook posts, Jessica Burgess, 41, tells her then 17-year-old daughter that she has been given abortion pills for her and instructs her on how to take them to terminate the pregnancy.
The daughter, meanwhile, tells “how she can’t wait to get the ‘thing’ out of her body,” a detective wrote in court documents. “I’ll finally be able to wear jeans,” she says in one of the posts. Law enforcement authorities 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 offense of taking, hiding or leaving a body, and two offences: concealing the death of another person and false reporting. It wasn’t until about a month later, after investigators looked at the private Facebook posts, that they added the felony charges against the mother. The daughter, who is now 18, is being charged as an adult at the request of the prosecutors.
Burgess’ lawyer did not immediately respond to a message on Tuesday and the public defender representing the daughter declined to comment.
When first questioned, the two investigators said the teen had unexpectedly given birth to a stillborn baby in the shower early in the morning of April 22. They said they put the fetus in a bag, in a box in the back of their van and later drove several miles north of town, where they buried the body with the help of a 22-year-old man.
The man, who The Associated Press does not identify as having been charged with a felony on his own, has pleaded for helping to bury the fetus in the countryside his parents own north of Norfolk in northeast Nebraska. He will be sentenced later this month.
In court documents, the detective said the fetus showed signs of “thermal wounds” and that the man told investigators that the mother and daughter burned it. He also wrote that in the Facebook exchange with her mother, the daughter confirmed that the two would “burn the evidence afterward.” Based on medical records, the fetus was more than 23 weeks old, the detective wrote.
Burgess later admitted to investigators that he bought the abortion pills “with the aim of causing a miscarriage.”
Initially, both mother and daughter said they did not remember the date of the stillbirth, but according to the detective, the daughter later confirmed the date by checking her Facebook posts. Then he asked for the warrant, he said.
Madison County attorney Joseph Smith told the Lincoln Journal Star that in his 32 years as a prosecutor, he has never filed such charges related to illegally performing an abortion. He did not immediately respond to a message from the AP on Tuesday.
The National Advocates for Pregnant Women group, which supports abortion rights, found 1,331 women arrested or detained from 2006 to 2020 for crimes related to their pregnancy.
In addition to the current 20-week abortion ban, Nebraska 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 overturned Roe v. Wade.
A Facebook spokesperson declined to talk about the details of the case, but the company has said officials from the social media giant “always investigate any government request we receive to ensure it is lawful”.
Facebook says it will fight back against requests it believes are invalid or too broad, but the company said it gave investigators information about 88% of the 59,996 times the government requested data in the second half of last year.