Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Aug 19, 2022 / 17:00 pm (CNA).
A Nebraska abortion case relying on private Facebook messages as evidence began as an investigation into concerns that a teenager gave birth prematurely to a stillborn child, according to court documents.
The case initially sparked a backlash from abortion supporters against Facebook amid growing concerns about tech privacy. Court documents suggest there is more to the story.
A 17-year-old from Norfolk, Nebraska, was nearly 30 weeks pregnant when, she said, she gave birth to a stillborn baby earlier this year, according to documents filed in Madison County Court. Those documents reveal that the teenager and her mother buried the baby before telling multiple people that they needed to dig up the body to burn it.
Then police came across Facebook messages that suggested the baby’s death was intentional.
Norfolk Police Detective Ben McBride obtained a search warrant for the messages of the daughter and her mother, Jessica Burgess, on somewhat of a hunch: He said that he saw the teenager check her Facebook Messenger account to confirm with him the exact date that she lost her baby (April 22, 2022). With the warrant in hand, McBride then said he secured messages between the two discussing certain pills.
“Hey we can get The show on the road the stuff came in,” the mother wrote on April 20, according to police. “1 pill stops the hormones and [t]hen you gotta wait 24 HR 2 take the other.”
The daughter responded by saying that she can’t wait to get the “thing” out of her body and by confirming their next steps, McBride wrote in court documents.
“Remember we burn the evidence,” the daughter typed, according to police. “Once everything is out.”
Her mother responded with a simple “Yep.”
Chemical abortion, or abortion by pill, is approved for use only up to 10 weeks of pregnancy by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The FDA first approved mifepristone, which is paired with another drug called misoprostol, for earlier abortions in 2000. The second pill can be taken 24-48 hours after the first.
Court documents say the evidence demonstrates that the mother obtained a “drug or other substance named ‘Pregnot’” from an online source for the purpose of ending the unborn baby’s life. The Pregnot tablet contains mifepristone and is used for abortion.
According to McBride, a friend of the teenager confirmed to the County Attorney’s Office that she was present when the daughter consumed the first pill. According to medical records cited by police, the teenager was nearly 30 weeks pregnant, or past the point of viability.
Nebraska law bans most abortions after 20 weeks.
While the case fed into abortion activists’ growing concerns about tech privacy following the Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade, which legalized abortion nationwide, in June, the incident happened two months earlier, in April.
According to police, the daughter gave birth in a bathtub or shower in the early morning hours. The records say that she and her mother placed the baby’s remains in a bag and, placed the bag into a box in a cargo van.
The baby’s remains were moved three times to different locations, according to McBride in court documents. Those same documents say that a man who helped bury the baby’s remains said that the mother and daughter attempted to burn the baby’s body before burying it.
After exhuming a body from the spot where the mother and daughter said they buried the baby’s remains, on April 29, McBride said the body they found “appeared to have thermal injuries.”
An April 30 autopsy on that body said the exact cause of death was unknown and that the findings were consistent with the baby being stillborn. Still, McBride noted that placement of the baby’s body in the plastic bag raised the possibility of suffocation.
Only Jessica Burgess is charged with abortion-related felonies: performing an abortion without a medical license, and performing or attempting to perform an abortion on an unborn child 20 weeks after conception.
Both women face charges of mishandling human remains (felony), concealing a death (misdemeanor), and providing false information (misdemeanor).
A a not-guilty plea was made on the mother’s behalf, while the daughter pleaded not guilty.
The Catholic response
Paige Brown, the communications and outreach specialist at the Nebraska Catholic Conference, called the known details of the case “particularly tragic and disturbing.”
She focused on holding the provider of the abortion pills accountable.
“Since abortion-inducing drugs are not FDA-approved after ten weeks, and the mailing of these drugs in Nebraska is illegal, we must learn who provided these dangerous drugs,” she told CNA. “It’s clear: abortion providers are willing to break the law, risk preborn lives, and risk the lives of vulnerable women for profit.”
Senior fellows with The Catholic Association (TCA), an organization dedicated to defending religious liberty, life, and the Church in the public square, also weighed in on the case.
“This tragedy illustrates what 50 years of an abortion dependent culture has wrought,” Maureen Ferguson, a senior fellow for TCA, told CNA.
She addressed how Catholics should respond.
“This story cries to out to us as Catholics to give of our time, talent, and treasure to help build a culture of life,” she said, before encouraging Catholics to get involved with the U.S. bishops’ pro-life parish-based ministry, Walking With Moms in Need.
Another fellow, Dr. Grazie Pozo Christie, spoke about the implications of abortion by pill in response to the “tragic case.”
“Today’s back alley abortion is the do-it-yourself chemical version, far away from medical oversight,” she told CNA. “Abortions performed in the second and third trimesters using this method are dangerous for the mother. Also, they produce a tiny corpse that will be disposed of in an undignified manner as happened in this case.”
She called the case a “tragedy for our whole culture, not just for this sad family.”
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