Nebraska woman charged with helping teen daughter get an abortion - with an assist from Facebook

AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee

A 41-year-old Nebraska mother and her teenage daughter are facing both misdemeanor and felony charges for aborting the daughter’s baby. A 22-year-old man is also charged with a misdemeanor in this case. The prosecutor said the case is the first time he has charged anyone for illegally performing an abortion after 20 weeks.


Nebraska passed a law in 2010 restricting abortion after 20 weeks. When the Supreme Court overturned Roe v Wade in June, states became allowed to do what they couldn’t do before the Supreme Court ruled on Dobbs v Jackson Women’s Health. States weren’t allowed to enforce abortion bans until the pregnancy was at about 24 weeks when the baby is considered viable.

In this case, Jessica Burgess purchased abortion pills for her seventeen-year-old daughter. She then gave her daughter instructions on how to use them. The story gets gruesome and, frankly, weird. Remember the daughter is a teenager and she obviously thinks like a teenage girl. One message shows the girl talking about how she can’t wait to get the “thing” out of her body and another says, “I will finally be able to wear jeans.” The mother tells her daughter they will burn the baby’s body after the abortion.

An investigation began in April. Facebook released text messages between the mother and daughter which helped an investigator piece together what had been an unusual case.

A Norfolk police detective launched his investigation in late April, chasing a tip that Celeste Burgess had miscarried and that she and her mother had buried the body, according to a search warrant affidavit.

The detective obtained her medical records, and determined she’d been more than 23 weeks — or nearly six months — pregnant at the time, and was expected to deliver July 3.

When he interviewed them a few days later, they told him Celeste Burgess had unexpectedly given birth to her stillborn baby in the shower, in the early morning hours after midnight, court records say.

She woke her mother, and they put the baby’s body in a bag and stowed it in the back of their van, he wrote.

Later — the records don’t say when — they drove a few miles north of town and buried the body, with help from a 22-year-old man.

On April 29, they showed the detective where — on a property owned by the man’s parents. He told investigators the mother and daughter had tried to burn the body before it was buried. And when authorities exhumed it, it showed signs of what the detective called “thermal wounds.”


Was the 22-year-old man the baby’s father? That isn’t clear.

At first the mother and daughter were charged with removing, concealing, or abandoning a dead human body. That is a felony. They were also charged with two misdemeanors for concealing the death of another person and false reporting. The investigation continued and the detective served a search warrant on Facebook to access their accounts. That is when he discovered that the mother, Jessica Burgess, gave abortion pills to her daughter and gave her instructions on how to use them. (There are two pills involved in medical abortion. They are taken at different times.)

A month later, Jessica was charged with two more felonies. She was charged with performing or attempting an abortion on a pregnancy at more than 20 weeks, and performing an abortion as a non-licensed doctor. The state law, as of June 28, 2022, requires doctors to perform abortions and to do so in a clinic or medical facility. There is also a requirement for counseling and a 24-hour waiting period after the counseling.

Madison County Attorney Joseph Smith said he has never seen a case like this in his 32 years as the county’s prosecutor. “I don’t think I’ve ever had a case like this,” he said Friday. “Usually, abortions are performed in hospitals, and doctors are involved, and it’s not the type of stuff that occurred in this case.” Nebraska tried but failed earlier this year to pass a trigger law that would ban all abortions when the Supreme Court overturned Roe v Wade.


So, thanks to some cooperation from Facebook, the mother received two more felony charges for violating the law. A spokesman released a statement.

A Facebook spokesman declined to talk about the details of this case, but the company has said that officials at the social media giant “always scrutinize every government request we receive to make sure it is legally valid.”

Facebook says it will fight back against requests that it thinks are invalid or too broad, but the company said it gave investigators information in about 88% of the 59,996 times when the government requested data in the second half of last year.

The daughter is now eighteen and is being charged as an adult at the request of the prosecutor. The 22-year-old man pleaded no contest to helping bury the baby on his parents’ land in a rural area north of Norfolk. He is scheduled to be sentenced later this month. The mother has admitted to buying the abortion pills “for the purpose of instigating a miscarriage.” At first, mother and daughter said they didn’t remember the date of the stillbirth (!) but the daughter later confirmed the date to the detective after checking her Facebook messages. That is when the detective sought the warrant.

What a story. It likely won’t be the last either, now that Roe v Wade has been overturned. This one is particularly gruesome with the attempt to burn of the baby’s body. I wonder if pro-abortion activists will come to this mother and daughter’s defense.


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David Strom 6:00 PM | February 27, 2024