A Nebraska teenager who used abortion pills to end her pregnancy was sentenced Thursday to 90 days in jail after pleading guilty earlier this year to illegally disposing of human remains.

The teenager, Celeste Burgess, 19, and her mother, Jessica Burgess, 42, were charged last year after police obtained their private Facebook messages which showed them discussing plans to end the pregnancy and “burn the evidence”.

Prosecutors said the mother ordered abortion pills online and gave them to her daughter in April 2022, when Celeste Burgess was 17 and in the early third trimester of her pregnancy. The two then buried the fetal remains themselves, police said.

Jessica Burgess pleaded guilty in July to violating Nebraska’s abortion law, providing false information to a police officer and removing or concealing human skeletal remains. She faces up to five years in prison at her Sept. 22 sentencing, according to Joseph Smith, the top prosecutor in Madison County, Neb.

The police investigation into the Burgesses began before the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in June 2022.

But the case gained greater attention after the court issued the ruling, Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, fueling fears that women, and those who help them, could be prosecuted for abortions, and that their private communications could be used against them.

At the time, Nebraska banned abortion after 20 weeks of conception. In May, Governor Jim Pillen, a Republican, signed a 12-week ban into law

Greer Donley, an associate professor of law at the University of Pittsburgh Law School, said in an interview Thursday that the case was a “harbinger of things to come” as a slew of Republican states enacted abortion restrictions and more women in those states sought abortion pills as a solution.

“This case is really sad because people resort to such things when they are really desperate,” Professor Donley said, “and what makes people really desperate are abortion bans.”

Nebraska Right to Life, an anti-abortion group, praised prosecutors for enforcing Nebraska’s 20-week law.

The executive director, Sandy Danek, did not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday. But she said in an interview last year that accountability should extend to providers who ship abortion pills to states like Nebraska that require a personal physician to supervise medication abortions.

“This disturbing act may become more common as the abortion industry continues to promote self-performed abortion where there is no medical oversight for risks and complications,” she said.

According to prosecutors, Celeste Burgess used abortion pills long after the 10 weeks allowed by the Food and Drug Administration.

Court records indicate she was nearly 30 weeks pregnant when she terminated the pregnancy — beyond the 23 to 24 weeks generally accepted as the point of viability, when a fetus could most likely live outside the womb.

The overwhelming majority of abortions in the United States occur in the first 13 weeks.

Prosecutors did not charge Celeste Burgess under Nebraska’s abortion law. She pleaded guilty in May to removing or concealing human skeletal remains, a felony. Prosecutors agreed to drop two misdemeanor charges against her: concealing a death and false reporting.

In addition to 90 days in jail, she was sentenced to two years of probation. The county public defender’s office, which represented her, declined to comment Thursday.

Mr. Smith, the prosecutor, said the sentence “seems reasonable” because Celeste Burgess had no criminal history. He said the case was the first abortion-related one he had prosecuted in his 33 years on the job.

“It’s a painful case for everyone,” he said, “and I’m glad it’s over.”

Mr. Smith noted that the case did not begin as an illegal abortion investigation.

In late April 2022, police in Norfolk, Neb., about 115 miles northwest of Omaha, began investigating “concerns” that a 17-year-old had given birth to a prematurely stillborn baby and that she and her mother had buried it, according to court documents.

A detective subpoenaed medical records showing the teenager was pregnant with a due date of July 3. When he interviewed the Burgess, they said the baby was stillborn in a bathtub and showed him where they buried it.

The detective said he later learned that the women actually buried the remains and then dug them up, moved them north of town and buried them again. Finally, they moved the remains a third time.

At some point, a man who helped them told the police that the women tried to burn the fetus. The remains were exhumed and showed signs of “thermal injuries,” the detective wrote.

When he asked the daughter about the exact date the pregnancy ended, she consulted her Facebook messages. He obtained a warrant for all the correspondence the mother and daughter exchanged on Facebook Messenger.

He found evidence of a medically induced abortion, writing that the daughter “talks about how she can’t wait to get that ‘thing’ out of her body.”

Elizabeth Ling, senior hotline adviser at If/When/How, an abortion rights group, sharply criticized the prosecution, saying it “added to that climate of fear that prevents people from seeking health care,” including medical abortion.

“I am disturbed and dismayed that, despite self-administered abortion not being illegal in Nebraska, prosecutors chose to punish a young man by unfairly weaponizing their laws against them for allegedly terminating their own pregnancy,” she said in a statement.

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