After investigators used a search warrant to collect her Facebook conversations, a Nebraska adolescent is now accused of aborting a fetus against state law.
On allegations that they violated a Nebraska law prohibiting abortions beyond 20 weeks, 17-year-old Celeste Burgess and her mother Jessica Burgess are awaiting trial in Madison County District Court as adults.
In the weeks following the US Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, this represents one of the first instances of a person’s Facebook behavior being used to accuse her in a state where abortion access is restricted.
The state of Nebraska now forbids abortions after 20 weeks. Republican state lawmakers tried to reduce that window to 12 weeks on Monday, but they were unable to get enough votes.
After receiving a tip that Celeste had miscarried in April at 23 weeks of pregnancy and secretly buried the fetus with the assistance of her mother, the Norfolk Police Department charged Celeste and her mother in July with allegedly removing, concealing or abandoning a dead human body and concealing the death of another person. The Lincoln Journal Star broke the story first.
Police maintained their investigation even after Celeste informed them that she had miscarried, and they served Facebook with a search warrant so they could access Celeste and Jessica’s Facebook accounts. Later, they discovered messages between the mother and daughter purportedly describing Celeste’s self-managed abortion with Jessica’s assistance. At the beginning of fetal viability, abortion is largely prohibited in more than a dozen states, with four states outlawing it at 24 weeks.
Andy Stone, a representative for Meta, declared on Twitter following the publication of this article that “Prior to the Supreme Court’s ruling, the legitimate search warrants we obtained from local law enforcement in early June did not contain any references to abortion.
According to court records, authorities at the time were looking into the case of a stillborn infant who was burnt and buried, not the decision to have an abortion, and the warrants were to charges from a criminal investigation.” Stone noted that non-disclosure agreements that have now been lifted forbade Meta from discussing the search warrant.
Employees questioned Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook parent company Meta, a month before Celeste was accused, about the firm’s plans to safeguard those seeking abortions. According to CyberScoop, Zuckerberg said that initiatives to increase encryption across the network will “keep people secure.” Janelle Gale, vice president of human resources at Meta, reportedly informed staff members in May that they were not permitted to bring up abortion at work. Later, the business disclosed that it would pay employees’ travel expenses if they needed to get an abortion out-of-state.
However, Meta has not said much about how it would control abortion-related information in general. Users have recently noticed that postings concerning buying abortion medicines like mifepristone on Facebook and Instagram are often being taken down. Meanwhile, Media Matters discovered that Meta was still making money off of anti-abortion ads that contained harmful falsehoods. The Markup’s investigation revealed that Facebook was gathering information from users visiting websites offering abortion services and then giving it to pro-life organizations.
Google declared that it would remove the location information of users who had used the platform to look up abortion services in response to staff pressure.
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