Huge privacy fears have been raised after Facebook handed over teenager’s private chats so she could be charged with having an abortion at home

A CRIMINAL abortion case using Facebook messages as evidence has sparked fears it will be the new norm after Roe v. Wade was lifted.

According to a criminal complaint filed in Madison County, Nebraska, Celeste Burgess, her mother Jessica and Tanner Barnhilll were arrested after they allegedly attempted to cremate and bury a stillborn child.

Jessica Burgess pleaded not guilty to all charges


Jessica Burgess pleaded not guilty to all chargesCredit: Facebook
Part two of the Facebook conversation


Part two of the Facebook conversationPhoto credit: Madison County Court

All three were charged in June over alleged attempts to burn and hide the stillborn child’s body after Celeste unexpectedly gave birth in the shower, according to court documents.

Jessica, 41, and her daughter Celeste, who turned 18 in June and faces adult charges, have pleaded not guilty. Barnhill did not plead a challenge to a misdemeanor charge.

A month later, the case became a bigger social issue after Jessica was accused of facilitating an illegal abortion and performing an abortion as someone other than a licensed doctor.

She pleaded not guilty to both charges, which were filed after a search warrant came back on Facebook with messages between Celeste and Jessica that appear to show the teen’s mother is buying her daughter “abortion pills” and telling her how to take them target.

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The alleged abortion at home happened at 23 weeks, according to the criminal complaint. Nebraska law limits abortions to the first 20 weeks.

That case began before the Supreme Court overturned Roe v Wade, but it has still raised a sense of concern about how abortion cases are prosecuted.

Amani Wells-Onyioha, a political pundit and civil rights activist, told The Sun that “the repeal of Roe v Wade was just the beginning of US institutions trampling on people’s right to privacy.”

“Now we’re seeing it taken to new extremes when officials try to prosecute women for what to do with their bodies,” she said.

“Using Facebook data to conduct abortion research is not only outlandish, but a complete and utter invasion of privacy that raises questions about why companies are protecting the rights of their users.”

Meta, Facebook’s parent company, issued a statement Aug. 9 clarifying that the search warrants were part of a police investigation into the alleged burning and burial of a stillborn child.

“We received valid warrants from local law enforcement on June 7, prior to the Supreme Court decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization.

“The warrants made no mention of abortion at all. Court documents indicate that police were investigating the alleged illegal cremation and burial of a stillborn child at the time.

“The arrest warrants were accompanied by non-disclosure orders that prevented us from sharing information about them. The orders have now been lifted.”

The Sun asked Meta’s rep, Any Stone, what Meta would have done if the warrants had mentioned abortion.

Stein did not answer.


Wells-Onyioha challenged Meta’s statement, asking, “Where does the company draw the line between politics and business?”

“Mark Zuckerberg has been accused of being politically conservative after Facebook was branded a ‘right-wing echo chamber’ during the 2020 election cycle.

“Meta claimed this was not intentional, but because right-wing content performs better in the algorithm than other types of content.

“Mark was also called to private meetings with Conservative party leaders in 2019, which was questionable to say the least.

“Given these facts, is it possible that Meta is so willing to cooperate with authorities and violate the privacy of their users because of their own political bias?

“Or are they just following a summons and doing as they’re told? Who has the last word in this matter?”

She believes the social media giant could fight harder for women’s privacy “if they wanted to.”


Handing over social media posts or private messages as part of a search warrant is nothing new, renowned legal expert Bennett Gershman told The Sun.

“People can’t expect privacy when using social media,” said Gershman, a veteran professor at New York’s Pace University Elisabeth Haub School of Law.

“They may think their conversations are private, but that expectation is unreasonable.

“Police and prosecutors have used Facebook and social media platforms to obtain evidence of a crime for many years. Social media evidence can be very distressing.

“The fact that it’s involved in an abortion case is an unusual twist.”

He said social media is an open platform; as opposed to phone calls which must be intercepted.

The same goes for text messages and emails, he said.

The key is to authenticate that the “electronic evidence” is an accurate transcription between the defendants, he said.

“The important thing is the certification in court,” said the law professor.

“They have to prove that it is actually them and not scammers. Some courts debate how much evidence is required for authentication. That’s the danger for prosecutors using digital evidence.

“But in this case you now have the evidence. At a trial it would be up to a jury to determine if they are authentic.”

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Due to the proliferation of digital evidence in court in other criminal cases, Gershman said, “I think that’s what you’re going to see” in future abortion cases.

“That kind of evidence could be available to prosecutors. It will likely be more prevalent when it comes to using social media evidence to prove people are planning to have an abortion.” Huge privacy fears have been raised after Facebook handed over teenager’s private chats so she could be charged with having an abortion at home


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