Facebook defends itself after handing over chat messages to police investigating abortion

US News

Facebook has defended itself after court documents emerged showing that it provided chat messages to police which are being used to prosecute a mother and daughter over an abortion.

The messages are part of a case in Nebraska alleging that the pair performed an abortion at 28 weeks without a license and then attempted to conceal a dead human body.

The alleged abortion took place before the US Supreme Court overturned Roe v Wade, which gave American women the constitutional right to terminate their pregnancies.

However it has sparked controversy amid concerns about how reproductive rights will be policed in the future, including by seeking information from social media accounts.

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Since that decision on Roe vs Wade the ability for an estimated 58 million girls and women across the US to access a safe and legal abortion has been called into question.

Read more: Six charts which reveal how abortion access has already changed in the US

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Abortion: 40 days in four charts

Facebook‘s parent company issued a statement claiming that “much of the reporting about Meta‘s role in a criminal case against a mother and daughter in Nebraska is plain wrong”.

What do the court documents say – and what did Meta do?

According to prosecutors in Madison County in Nebraska, Jessica Burgess, 41, obtained abortion pills and then gave them to her daughter, Celeste, then 17, and helped her burn and bury the foetus with the help of a 20-year-old man, Tanner Barnhill, who is also facing misdemeanour charges.

Celeste Burgess was 28 weeks pregnant when she took the medication, which is considered the beginning of the third trimester. Nebraska limits abortion to 20 weeks in most circumstances where the health of the mother is not at risk.

The medication which Jessica Burgess obtained is designed to provide medical termination of pregnancies during the first trimester, up until week 12.

Police say they were tipped off about the case by a close friend of Celeste who saw her take the first pill.

Officers applied for a search warrant to Meta regarding all private data about the Burgesses, and direct messages included in the court documents appear to show the mother and daughter discussing taking the medication.

They said that after exhuming the foetus the post-mortem examination was consistent with stillbirth, but because it was placed into a plastic bag they couldn’t discount the possibility that it had been asphyxiated – which formed part of the investigation.

The women, who are pleading not guilty, will face a jury trial in October.

Read more:
Roe v Wade: How did we get here?
Kansas votes to protect abortion rights in state constitution after Supreme Court ruling

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Kansas votes for right to an abortion

In its full statement, Meta said: “We received valid legal warrants from local law enforcement on June 7, before the Supreme Court’s decision[.] The warrants did not mention abortion at all.”

The statement added: “Court documents indicate that police were at that time investigating the alleged illegal burning and burial of a stillborn infant.

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

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