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A Nebraska woman was charged with helping her teenage daughter terminate her pregnancy at approximately 24 weeks after investigators discovered Facebook messages in which the two discussed the use of medication to induce an abortion and plans to burn the fetus after.
The prosecutor handling the case said it is the first time he has charged someone with performing an illegal abortion after 20 weeks, a restriction passed in 2010. Before the US Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in June, states could not enforce abortion bans up to the point where a fetus is considered viable outside the womb, which is about 24 weeks.
In one of the Facebook messages, Jessica Burgess, 41, tells her then-17-year-old daughter that she has gotten her abortion pills and gives her instructions on how to take them to end the pregnancy.
Meanwhile, the daughter “talks about how she can’t wait to get the ‘thing’ out of her body,” a detective wrote in court documents. “I can finally wear jeans,” he says in one of the messages. 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 only charged with a single felony for removal, concealment or abandonment of a body, and two misdemeanors: concealing the death of another person and making a false report. It wasn’t until about a month later, after investigators reviewed private Facebook messages, that they added the felony abortion charges against the mother. The daughter, now 18, is being charged as an adult at the request of prosecutors.
Burgess’s attorney did not immediately respond to a message Tuesday and the public defender representing the daughter declined to comment.
When first interviewed, the two told investigators that the teenager had unexpectedly given birth to a stillborn baby in the shower in the early morning hours of April 22. They said they put the fetus in a bag, placed it in a box in the back of their truck, and then drove several miles north of town, where they buried the body with the help of a 22-year-old man.
The man, who is not identified by The Associated Press because he has only been charged with a misdemeanor, did not object to helping bury the fetus on rural land owned by his parents north of Norfolk, in northeastern Nebraska. . He is scheduled to be sentenced at the end of this month.
In court documents, the detective said the fetus showed signs of “thermal injuries” and that the man told investigators the mother and daughter burned it. He also wrote that her daughter confirmed in the Facebook exchange with her mother that the two would “burn the evidence later.” According to medical records, the fetus was more than 23 weeks old, the detective wrote.
Burgess later admitted to investigators that he purchased the abortion pills “for the purpose of instigating a miscarriage.”
At first, both her mother and daughter said they couldn’t remember the date the stillbirth occurred, but according to the detective, the daughter later confirmed the date by looking at her Facebook messages. After that she looked for the warrant, she said.
Madison County Prosecutor Joseph Smith told the Lincoln Journal Star that he has never filed charges like this related to performing an illegal abortion in his 32 years as a county prosecutor. He did not immediately respond to an AP message on Tuesday.
The group National Advocates for Pregnant Women, which supports abortion rights, found 1,331 arrests or detentions of women for crimes related to their pregnancy between 2006 and 2020.
In addition to its 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 US Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade.
A Facebook spokesperson declined to discuss the details of this case, but the company said officials at the social media giant “always review every government request we receive to make sure it’s legally valid.”
Facebook says it will fight requests it deems invalid or too broad, but the company said it provided information to researchers about 88% of the 59,996 times the government requested data in the second half of last year.