Celeste Burgess is a 17-year old girl. Her mother Jessica Burgess is now her face felony charges in their home state of Nebraska after Celeste Burgess allegedly self-managed an abortion after Nebraska’s 20-week abortion ban. Celeste, who is being tried as an adult, faces a felony charge related to burying the fetal remains and two misdemeanor charges of “concealing the death of another person” and lying to police. Her mother, who allegedly assisted her in self-managing an abortion, is facing a felony charge. FiveCharges, including performing an abortion without a licence or inducing an unplanned abortion.
Law enforcement received a tip that Celeste Burgess allegedly miscarried and then buried the fetus with her mother’s help. Law enforcement then served Facebook a search warrant, with which Facebook complied, to find private messages in which the mother and daughter discussed Celeste Burgess’s self-managed abortion.
It’s abhorrent, but unsurprising, that Facebook willingly turned over a user’s private messages to aid in the unjust prosecution of her self-managed abortion, but this is what that company is. CEO Mark Zuckerberg has proven, time and again, that he has absolutely no concern for the privacy and safety of the social networking site’s users or for society at large. Facebook has happily made it possible to erode the privacy net online for many years. white supremacyIt allows disinformation and terrorism to flourish while the site makes billions in ad revenues.
The company now supports the criminalization of teenagers for having an abortion.
This may be one of the first cases of Facebook collaborating with the criminalization of abortion care, but it certainly won’t be the last. And it isn’t the first time people have experienced criminalization for their pregnancy outcomes, or that their digital footprint has been used to aid in that criminalization.
2001 Regina McKnightBlack woman from South Carolina was homeless and had a struggle with drug addiction. She was convicted for homicide and sentenced 12 years in prison for having a stillbirth. It was the first conviction of its kind. Roe v. Wade.
By the time Purvi PatelIn 2015, a woman from Indiana and the child of Indian immigrants became pregnant. The digital communication landscape was changing rapidly. Patel sent unencrypted messages to a friend regarding her pregnancy. She also shared that she had searched online for abortion pills. Patel went to the hospital complaining of heavy vaginal bleeding and confessed that she had given birth to a stillborn baby. She was terrified of her conservative parents’ reaction, and wanted to hide what had happened from them. Instead, law enforcement subpoenaed all her text messages and she was convicted of child neglect and feticide.
Latice FisherA Black mother of three gave birth to a stillborn child in her Starksville, Mississippi home in 2017. Her husband called 911. Instead of treating it as a tragic accident and giving her the appropriate treatment, law enforcement looked suspiciously at Fisher. They searched Fisher’s internet search history on her phone, found a result for medication abortion, and therefore assumed she had intentionally attempted to terminate the pregnancy. She was charged with second degree murder and could spend up to 40 years prison.
All of this happened while Roe v. WadeThe law of the land. Women of color were targeted regardless of abortion’s legality. Now that RoeThe surveillance and criminalization of women of color has declined, and Facebook is an integral part of this.
So much of our communication is digital, and it’s both unfair and unrealistic to assume that, when trying to find information or even reaching out to a friend for comfort and support, we simply avoid the internet altogether. For young people, especially, who came of age when social media was a given, it’s impossible. What’s imperative is that pregnant people seeking support and information know how to protect themselves from possible criminalization.
Facebook isn’t just assisting law enforcement in the criminalization of pregnancy outcomes; it also provides its highly-sensitive user data to anti-abortion organizations, known for their deceptive tacticsAnd outright liesIt is used to target people online by some, even though it is against their policies. Meta also owns Instagram (and Facebook) RemovingPosts aimed at helping people to access information and services regarding abortion care.
Never take a social networking site’s good intentions as gospel. Meta, the company that owns Instagram and Facebook, clearly supports the criminalization of self managed abortion. Your “private” messages on either of those sites aren’t private, as Celeste Burgess’s tragic case shows, and Meta can and will provide them to law enforcement. Don’t trust Twitter direct messages, either. If you need to communicate digitally about self managed abortion, consider using an encrypted messaging app like WhatsApp. Signal. And if you’re searching for information online, be sure to use a privacy-preserving search engine, like DuckDuckGo. If you are discussing self-managed abortion, you can use Protonmail or a secondary telephone number like a Google number.
Navigating this new terrain can be daunting and frightening. Every digital footprint you leave can potentially harm you. All for your health and future. But know that you’re not alone, that there These areThere are many ways to protect yourself. The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), offers some helpful information. digital security and privacy tipsFor abortion care. If you have any questions about self-managed abortion, how to protect yourself and your rights, please visit the Repro Legal HelplineThis is a great spot to visit.
Celeste Burgess, her mother, and their child deserve to be freed from criminalization of a pregnancy outcome. They should also be free to continue living as full citizens of this nation. Instead, they face felony charges for doing what people have done since the beginning of time — terminate a pregnancy — and they won’t be the last.
Mark Zuckerberg was lying when he said that Facebook will “keep people safe” after Roe v. WadeIt was overturned. Only you can do it.