Facebook Hands Over Mother-Daughter Chats in Abortion Investigation

A teenage Nebraska girl’s “friend” turned her in to police when she saw the girl take an abortion pill, according to a criminal affidavit that also says Facebook handed over to police chats between the girl and her mother.

The case predates the US Supreme Court’s overturning of the nearly 50-year-old Roe v. Wade decision in June, relying instead on a Nebraska law that makes abortion illegal at 20 weeks. Celeste Burgess, then 17, miscarried at 23 weeks after taking the pills in April, NBC News reports.

Norfolk Police Detective Ben McBride pursued the case after the tip from a self-described friend of Celeste Burgess. He obtained a search warrant for chats between her and her mother, 41-year-old Jessica Burgess, and seized six smartphones and seven laptops, along with the Facebook messenger files directly from Meta, Facebook’s parent company.

“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 his warrant application.

Meta said in a statement that it handed over the data without question but noted that “nothing in the valid warrants we received from local law enforcement in early June, prior to the Supreme Court decision, mentioned abortion.

“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,” the company said. “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.”

Those chats, published in court documents, show “Jessica” giving “Celeste” instructions about “What i ordered last month.”

The documents say that Jessica Burgess obtained the pills and gave them to her daughter. The pills induced a miscarriage, and the Burgesses buried the fetus. Later, the documents say, they dug up the fetus and attempted to burn it, then reburied it.

The documents also name the “friend” who told police about the abortion.

Jessica Burgess has been charged with two misdemeanors and three felonies, including abortion and abortion by other than a licensed physician. Celeste Burgess has been charged with two misdemeanors and a felony. The teen’s charges, and the mother’s other charges, related to concealing a death and providing false information. KMTV said that the abortion-related charges were only added after McBride received the data from Facebook.

A third person, 22-year-old Tanner Barnhill allegedly helped the Burgesses bury the fetus on his parents’ property and has been charged with attempting to conceal a death.

Both Burgesses pleaded not guilty.

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[Featured image: Pixabay]