A Nebraska teenager is facing criminal charges for allegedly violating state law by aborting a fetus. Authorities obtained a search warrant to access Celeste Burgess’ private messages on Facebook. The 17-year-old, who is being tried as an adult alongside her mother, Jessica Burgess, is being charged in Madison County District Court for breaking the Nebraska law that bans abortion after 20 weeks. In the weeks following the US Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, a scenario where authorities use a woman’s Facebook activity to incriminate her was hypothetical until now.
Celeste and her mother were charged in July for allegedly removing, concealing, or abandoning a dead human body and concealing the death of another person. The Norfolk Police Department received a tip claiming the young girl miscarried in April at 23 weeks of pregnancy and discreetly buried the fetus with the help of her mother. Celeste told officers that she miscarried, but they continued to investigate and were granted permission to look through Celeste and Jessica’s Facebook accounts.
Authorities allegedly found a conversation between the daughter-mother duo detailing Jessica assisting Celeste with a self-managed abortion. Policy Communications Director at Facebook Andy Stone couldn’t immediately confirm details about the incident. A month before Celeste was charged, CEO of Facebook parent Meta Mark Zuckerberg was asked about his plans to protect employees who are seeking abortions, and he proposed encrypting messages. Zuckerberg said, “So I’ve had a lot of debates over time around things like encryption, right? Where there have been some safety advocates who have said, ‘Hey, if you encrypt messages, you’re making it harder to see some bad behavior?’ Well, you know, I think in this case having your messages encrypted is actually one of the ways that you keep people safe from bad behavior or overbroad requests for information or things like that.” The Verge reports Meta’s VP of HR, Janelle Gale, told employees they’re not allowed to discuss abortions at work. It was later announced that the company would pay for abortion travel.
Social media users criticized Instagram and Facebook for systematically removing pro-abortion advertisements. Additionally, Meta continues to earn revenue from anti-abortion ads, per Media Matters. An investigation conducted by Markup proves Facebook is silently collecting data from users engaging with abortion websites and making the information available to anti-abortion groups. On the other hand, Google pledged to delete the location data of users who searched for abortion services after the tech company’s employees pressured the higher-ups.
On Monday (Aug. 8), Nebraska lawmakers didn’t get enough votes to decrease the 20-week abortion window to 12 weeks. Four states ban abortion at 24 weeks, and more than 12 states ban it at the start of fetal viability.