Mainstream media outlets inaccurately suggested a 17-year-old girl was being prosecuted for obtaining an illegal late-term abortion in recent headlines about a Nebraska case.
Numerous outlets covering the story emphasized Facebook’s role in the prosecution of this abortion-related case and highlighted concerns about tech companies protecting people’s data in light of new abortion restrictions going into effect.
Headlines generally didn’t acknowledge the baby’s late gestational age, the concealment of the corpse, or the suspicious autopsy that led to the warrant for their Facebook messages.
Vice, NBC News, Daily Beast, USA Today, Bloomberg, and CBS News also ran headlines that emphasized Facebook’s compliance with the police warrant and failed to note the baby’s late gestational age and the alleged attempts to conceal and destroy the corpse.
“Facebook Gave Nebraska Cops A Teen’s DMs. They Used Them To Prosecute Her For Having An Abortion,” a Forbes headline said; in reality, the teen who had the abortion was charged for her handling of the corpse and failure to report what she told police had been a stillbirth, and only her mother was charged with the abortion. Vice similarly said the data was being used to “Prosecute a Teenager for Abortion” in its headline, and NBC’s headline said, “mother and daughter now charged over abortion.”
“Abortion rights activists, digital privacy experts, and anyone who is concerned about privacy in the United States have raised fears that people’s digital communications, location data, period app tracking information, or other private data will be used against them to criminalize abortion,” the Vice article read.
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“Much of the reporting about Meta’s role in a criminal case against a mother and daughter in Nebraska is plain wrong,” Meta wrote in a press release. “We received valid legal warrants from local law enforcement on June 7, before the Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. The warrants did not mention abortion at all. Court documents indicate that police were at that time investigating the alleged illegal burning and burial of a stillborn infant.”
Jessica Burgess allegedly gave the teen abortion pills when she was 28 weeks pregnant, then the two of them allegedly concealed the baby’s corpse and discussed a plan to dig it up and burn it over Facebook messages, prosecutors said, according to Vice. Nebraska has the same 20-week abortion limit it had before Roe v. Wade was overturned; children have survived after being delivered at as young as 21 weeks and routinely survive at 24 weeks.
Celeste and Jessica Burgess initially told police the baby had unexpectedly been delivered stillborn, but an autopsy was unable to determine whether the child was stillborn or had suffocated to death in the bag the baby was buried in, according to Vice.
The authorities then sought a warrant for the women’s communications to determine whether the child had been stillborn or suffocated, according to Vice. Facebook’s parent company, Meta, turned over the messages to the police in response to a warrant regarding the improper handling of a dead human body.
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The two appear to discuss obtaining and taking a two-step abortion pill regimen and burning the “evidence” in texts shared by Vice which were obtained through the warrant.
“Thought u would b happy 2 hear the stuff came in,” the mother said in one text.
“Yes … I will finally be able to wear jeans,” her daughter replied.
Police charged Celeste Burgess, the 17-year-old, with a felony count for “removing/ concealing/ abandoning dead human body” and two misdemeanors related to concealing a person’s death and false reporting, according to Vice.
The teen’s mother received felony charges for performing an illegal abortion after 20 weeks gestation, performing an abortion as a non-licensed doctor, and concealing a dead human body along with two misdemeanor charges.
”Celeste Burgess talks about how she can’t wait to get this ‘thing’ out of her body and reaffirms it with Jessica Burgess that they will burn the evidence afterward,” BenMcBride, a detective investigating the case, wrote in an affidavit requesting permission to seize the Burgess’ electronics, according to Vice.
“I know from prior training and experience, and conversations with other seasoned criminal investigators, people involved in criminal activity frequently have conversations regarding their criminal activities through various social networking sites … computer hardware, software, and data are instrumentalities and evidence in the commission of this crime,” he said.
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Free Press.