A Nebraska mother and her daughter are facing felony charges after the mother allegedly helped her teenager abort her pregnancy, burn the fetus and then bury it.
Jessica Burgess, 41, is facing five criminal charges, including three felonies, after investigators accused her of helping her 17-year-old daughter obtain abortion pills to end her pregnancy, as well as burning and interring the fetus.
Her daughter, who is being tried as an adult, is facing three charges, including one felony.
The alleged abortion happened before the US supreme court in June overturned its ruling in Roe v Wade, which established federal abortion rights nearly 50 years earlier. Nonetheless, in addition to being charged with essentially failing to properly report a death, authorities are accusing Burgess of facilitating an illegal abortion.
Both women are awaiting trial in Madison county, Nebraska, district court while out on bond, and they have pleaded not guilty to all charges.
A 22-year-old man, accused of helping the two women bury the fetus, pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor charge and will be sentenced at a later date, the Lincoln Journal Star reports.
According to a search warrant affidavit, the Norfolk, Nebraska, police department launched an investigation in April after receiving information that Burgess’s daughter had miscarried and buried the fetus.
A detective in the department then obtained the daughter’s health records, determining that she was nearly six months pregnant at the time of the miscarriage and expected to deliver in early July.
It is unclear how the detective obtained the teen’s medical records or exactly how the tip was sent to police.
During an interview, Burgess and her daughter later told police that the teen had delivered a stillborn baby, confirmed by a 30 April autopsy done on the fetus, and that the two buried the fetus with the help of the 22-year-old man.
The two showed the detective where the fetus was buried on 29 April, with the 22-year-old man telling police that the two women tried to burn the fetus before it had been buried.
Police later exhumed the fetus and found signs of “thermal wounds”, the Journal Star reported.
In June, Burgess and her daughter were both charged with removing, abandoning or concealing a dead human body – a felony – as well as concealing another person’s death and false reporting, which are misdemeanor charges.
The pair were originally only given citations for concealing another person’s death and false reporting.
But afterwards, investigators issued a search warrant to search Burgess and her daughter’s Facebook accounts.
There, detectives found messages that suggested Burgess had bought abortion pills for her daughter and instructed her on how to take them.
“[The daughter] talks about how she can’t wait to get the ‘thing’ out of her body and reaffirms with [Jessica Burgess] that they will burn the evidence afterwards,” the detective wrote in court records, according to Siouxland News, a local news affiliate.
Authorities in July charged Burgess with additional felonies for performing or attempting an abortion on a pregnancy that is past 20 weeks and for performing an abortion as a non-licensed doctor.
Both women were released from jail on bond as of Tuesday.
The lawyer for Jessica Burgess declined to comment, the Journal Star reported. An attorney representing her daughter could not be reached.
Nebraska’s governor, Pete Ricketts, on Monday said that he would not call a special legislative session to further restrict access to abortions because Republican lawmakers in the state do not have enough votes to pass a 12-week abortion ban, Reuters reported.