In Nebraska, Jessica Burgess has been sentenced to two years in prison for aiding her teenage daughter in terminating her pregnancy and burying the remains in early 2022.
Jailed for Daughter’s Abortion
Her daughter, Celeste Burgess, was sentenced to 90 days in jail and was released earlier this month.
Another individual, Tanner Barnhill, who pleaded no contest to attempting to conceal a death for helping with the burial, received a sentence of nine months of probation and 40 hours of community service.
The case has gained significant attention due to the charges brought against Jessica Burgess.
She took a plea deal but faced charges related to providing an abortion after 20 weeks of gestation, tampering with human remains, and false reporting.
Impact of Eroded Abortion Rights
The state’s 20-week abortion ban in effect at the time primarily targeted licensed abortion providers, not individuals self-managing their abortions, raising questions about the application of the law in this case.
Reproductive rights advocates and legal experts have criticized the charges, arguing that they are not consistent with the state’s laws and regulations.
Rafa Kidvai, the director of If/When/How’s Repro Legal Defense Fund, pointed out that self-managed abortion is not a crime in Nebraska.
The case has also ignited a broader conversation about reproductive rights in the United States, particularly in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which has raised concerns about the erosion of abortion rights.
Facebook Helping Police Investigations
Nebraska is among several states that have implemented tighter abortion restrictions since June 2022.
In May, Nebraska’s Republican Governor Jim Pillen signed a bill banning abortion at 12 weeks of pregnancy, with exceptions for rape, incest, and cases where the pregnant person’s life is at risk—a law currently facing legal challenges.
Furthermore, the Burgess case has raised concerns about digital privacy, as police obtained and Facebook parent company Meta complied with a search warrant for private messages related to the case.
Abortion Medication Tests
There are also growing fears that U.S. law enforcement may attempt to use new laboratory methods, allegedly developed in countries like Poland with strict abortion bans, to detect medication commonly used for self-managed abortions.
A report released by Pregnancy Justice and other groups this month revealed that from 2000 to 2020, at least 61 individuals were criminally investigated or arrested for ending their own pregnancies or assisting others in doing so.
From 2006 to 2020, over 1,300 people were arrested in relation to their conduct during pregnancy, including those who experienced miscarriages and stillbirths but were suspected of self-managing abortions.
A Culture of Fear
Emma Roth, a senior staff attorney at Pregnancy Justice, emphasized that even if state laws do not criminalize abortion itself, prosecutors often seek creative ways to prosecute and shame individuals.
These prosecutions create a culture of fear and can be used to target individuals for what is perceived as immoral conduct rather than strictly adhering to the law.
In response to these challenges to reproductive rights, advocates in Nebraska and other states are actively working to put questions on the 2024 ballots regarding amendments to state constitutions that would protect the right to abortion.
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Source: Common Dreams