REVEALED: Facebook turned over to cops the private chats between Nebraska mom and her 17-year-old daughter that outlined their plan to carry out at-home abortion and 'burn the evidence'
Facebook turned over chats between a Nebraska mom and her 17-year-old daughter discussing preparations for the teen's at-home abortion.
Meta, the social media giant's parent company, turned over the direct messages as part of an investigation into the teen's illegal abortion, court documents show.
The investigation was launched in April, before the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, after police received reports that Jessica Burgess obtained and administered abortion pills to her daughter, Celeste Burgess.
Celeste was 23 weeks when she terminated her pregnancy, a violation of state law. The mother-daughter duo then allegedly burned the fetus and buried it.
Meta 'regularly turns over user information that has been requested by US law enforcement,' Neama Rahmani, former federal prosecutor and president of West Coast Trial Lawyers, told DailyMail.com, adding this practice was 'not unusual.'
Facebook claims 'nothing in the valid warrants received from local law enforcement mentioned abortion' and instead indicated officials were probing the 'case of a stillborn baby who was burned and buried.'
The case highlights the fears of pro-choice activists who, in wake of the Roe ruling, have expressed fear over the use of social media to prosecute women who seek abortions.
Nebraska officials submitted a search warrant to Meta in June requesting all data the company had on the Burgesses, an affidavit obtained by DailyMail.com revealed.
The warrant stated that Norfolk police detective Ben McBride was investigating an alleged abortion after the Burgess family claimed Celeste had unexpectedly 'given birth prematurely supposedly to a stillborn child.'
The teen then 'enacted the help of her mother, Jessica Burgess, and the two of them buried the child together,' the affidavit states. Jessica and Celeste then reportedly told others 'they needed to dig the child's body up and then burn it.'
The document explicitly states that police exhumed the fetus. It stated 'exact cause [of death] was unknown but the lungs didn't indicate they'd ever contained any air.'
A final autopsy report concluded that 'cause of death was undetermined' and the findings were 'consistent with the fetus being stillborn.'
The report noted that 'the placement of the fetus into a plastic bag raise the possibility of asphyxia due to suffocation.' It also indicated the fetus showed signs of 'thermal injuries.'
McBride, when seeking the warrant, said police needed evidence from the women's Facebook accounts to determine 'whether the baby was stillborn or asphyxiated.'
The search warrant was approved and Facebook complied with it, providing officials with messages where the pair seemingly discuss taking abortion medication.
'Are we starting it today?' Celeste, using an alternate surname on the social media site, messaged her mother.
'We can if u want the one will stop the hormones,' Jessica answered, to which Celeste said: 'Ok'
'Ya the 1 pill stops the hormones an rehn [sic] u gotta wait 24 HR 2 take the other' the mother explained.
'Ok,' Celeste replied, adding: 'Remember we burn the evidence'
In another thread Jessica confirms 'it came 2day' when talking about the apparent abortion pill.
The pair's Facebook chat was used as the main basis for a second search warrant which confiscated 13 laptops, smartphones and 24 gigabytes of data - including pictures, messages and web browsing history - from the family.
Jessica, 41, was hit with five felonies pertaining to the incident. Celeste, who is being tried as an adult, was charged with three. Both women have pleaded not guilty.
Meta, in a statement shared on Twitter, stated it was unaware that law enforcement was investigating an alleged illegal abortion.
'Nothing in the valid warrants we received from local law enforcement in early June, prior to the Supreme Court decision, mentioned abortion,' Meta spokesperson Andy Stone tweeted Tuesday night.
'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.
'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.'
DailyMail.com asked Meta how often the company turns over user's data and messages to authorities, but was instead referred to Stone's statement.
Rahmani told DailyMail.com on Tuesday that Meta 'regularly turns over user information' when requested by authorities.
'The company provides information that does not have the content of a message in response to an administrative subpoena by law enforcement,' he said.
'This information may include a subscriber name, log in times, email and phone numbers. In response to a search warrant, the company will turn over the actual content of a message.'
Rahmani argued that in the Burgess case, what is 'unusual' was not Meta's response but the fact that the alleged crime was 'a self-induced abortion.'
'Prior to the Supreme Court's decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, it was extremely rare for any woman in the United States to be prosecuted for a self-induced abortion, so technology companies like Meta wouldn't have typically dealt with these types of issues,' he explained.
'Even though this case predates the Supreme Court decision, and it involves a case that might have involved a violation of Nebraska's existing ban on abortions after about the 20-week mark, it's an indication that tech companies will increasingly face pressure to comply with law enforcement requests that involve evidence of self-induced abortions.'
The legal expert cited Alphabet, Google's parent company, which has already stated it would 'try to remove digital records of their users' visits to places like abortion clinics or counseling centers from the company's database.'
Rahmani claimed this could allow Alphabet to 'avoid having to turn over some of this data to law enforcement.'
He added: 'It remains to be seen what Meta will do about these types of requests in the future, but it's clear they can expect a lot more of them.'
Norfolk police launched an investigation into the Burgess family in April after receiving a tip that Celeste had miscarried and buried the body.
Detectives obtained a copy of the teen's medical records and determined she was 23 weeks pregnant at the time of the alleged incident, with an expected due date of July 3.
When officials interviewed Celeste, she claimed she had a stillbirth in the shower on April 22 sometime after midnight, according to the affidavit.
Celeste told police she informed her mother of her miscarriage, placed the fetus in a bag and then inside a box in the back of a cargo van.
Jessica and Celeste drove to a property north of Norfolk, allegedly belonging to the parents of 22-year-old Tanner Barnhill, and buried the body.
The affidavit does not specify when the burial happened, but notes Barnhill helped with the task.
On April 29, Barnhill showed investigators where the fetus was buried and told authorities that Jessica and Celeste had tried to burn it before burying it.
When officials exhumed the body, it showed signs of 'thermal injuries.'
Barnhill was charged with helping the pair dispose of the fetus. He pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor and will be sentenced later this month.
During their investigation, officials also discovered Facebook messages between the mother-daughter duo in which they were discussing abortion pills.
The messages - sent April 20, two days before the alleged stillbirth - revealed that Jessica advised her daughter on how to use the pills.
Celeste reportedly stated that she couldn't wait to get the 'thing' out of her body.
Jessica confirmed they would 'burn the evidence afterward.'
Both women were charged in June with removing, concealing or abandoning a dead human body - a felony. They were also hit with misdemeanor charges of concealing the death of another person and false reporting.
A month later, the Madison County Attorney added two more felonies against Jessica: performing or attempting abortion at more than 20 weeks and performing an abortion as a non-licensed doctor.
Prosecutor Joseph Smith said it was the first time in his 32-year career with the county that he filed those charges.
'I don't think I've ever had a case like this,' he told The Lincoln Journal Star on Friday. 'Usually, abortions are performed in hospitals, and doctors are involved, and it's not the type of stuff that occurred in this case.'
Both women have pleaded not guilty and are awaiting trial.
Jessica was released from jail on June 27 after posting a $10,00 bond, NTV reported. She is scheduled to appear in court on September 2.
Celeste was released on July 21 after posting a $20,000 bond and is scheduled for court on August 29.
Nebraska currently allows abortions up to 20 weeks post-fertilization.
Republican Gov. Pete Ricketts had expressed interest in calling a special session to further restrict abortion access, saying he would support a near-total ban with no exceptions for rape or incest.
But in a statement on Monday, the governor said only 30 state senators would support a ban on abortions past 12 weeks. The legislation requires 33 votes to pass.
Nebraska's state legislature is unicameral, meaning it only has one chamber, and is comprised of 32 Republicans and 17 Democrats.
'It is deeply saddening that only 30 Nebraska state senators are willing to come back to Lincoln this fall in order to protect innocent life,' Ricketts said.
'As Governor, I will continue doing whatever I can in my power to affirm the rights of pre-born babies and to support pregnant women, children, and families in need.'
Rickett's statement comes as several other Republican-led states have grappled in recent weeks with how far to go in restricting abortion access after Roe was overturned.
Indiana on Friday became the first state to pass a new abortion ban since Roe's overturn. The state's ban prohibits all abortions except when the life of the mother is endangered, the fetus develops a fatal abnormality or the pregnancy results from rape or incest but has not advanced beyond 10 weeks of gestation.
West Virginia's legislature, also led by Republicans, is on the verge of passing a near-total abortion ban during a special session this summer. But lawmakers disagree over whether doctors who perform abortions outside narrow exceptions should face prison time.
Meantime, abortion rights activists and digital privacy experts have voiced concerns that digital communications, location data, period tracking apps and other private information could be used to criminalize abortion.
Mico Yuk, a data expert for Count, told DailyMail.com last month that although tracking menstrual cycle data is good, women still need to take precautions to protect their privacy.
Yuk, who has used a period tracker for six years, said period trackers follow 'overall health' and are collecting a lot data from users. Tracking apps can also trace sexual activity and whether or not women intend to become pregnant by user input.
She now recommends that women use encrypted trackers - like Period Plus or Natural Cycles - and to only use apps that explicitly state they will not sell users' data. She also recommends checking phone settings to see whether an app is encrypted.
Yuk also suggested that women use an alias account when using health tracking apps and searching for healthcare questions. But more importantly, she advises to avoid using any email address that is 'connected to a search engine,' she told said.