Woman Gets Prison for Giving Abortion Pills to Her Daughter

Case has been part of the Nebraska debate on restrictions
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Sep 22, 2023 3:50 PM CDT
Woman Gets Prison for Giving Abortion Pills to Her Daughter
Protesters gather at the Nebraska State Capitol in Lincoln during an abortion rights rally on July 4.   (Kenneth Ferriera/Lincoln Journal Star via AP, File)

A Nebraska mother who pleaded guilty to giving her teenage daughter pills for an abortion and helping to burn and conceal the fetus was sentenced Friday to two years in prison. Jessica Burgess, 42, pleaded guilty in July to tampering with human remains, false reporting, and providing an abortion after at least 20 weeks of gestation, which is illegal in Nebraska. Madison County District Judge Mark Johnson sentenced her Friday to one year in prison for each count, with the first two to run concurrently. The sentence for the abortion count was ordered to run after the first two, amounting to a two-year sentence. Online court records show the judge deemed her unsuitable for probation, the AP reports.

Burgess, of Norfolk, Nebraska, admitted at her plea hearing to helping her daughter, then 17, end her pregnancy. As part of her plea, charges of concealing the death of another person and abortion by someone other than a licensed physician were dismissed. Her daughter, Celeste Burgess, who is now 19, was sentenced in July to 90 days in jail and two years' probation for burning and burying the fetus. The abortion, well into the teen's third trimester, violated Nebraska law at the time that prohibited abortion after 20 weeks of gestation. Officials have said Jessica Burgess ordered abortion pills online and gave them to her daughter in the spring of 2022.

Norfolk police opened an investigation into the abortion after receiving a tip, according to an arrest affidavit. Police secured a search warrant to gain access to Facebook messages between the two, in which prosecutors say the women discussed terminating the pregnancy and destroying the evidence. Police then found the burned fetal remains buried in a field north of Norfolk. In one of the Facebook messages, Jessica Burgess instructed her daughter on how to take the pills to end the pregnancy, according to court records. In another, Celeste Burgess wrote, "I will finally be able to wear jeans." Nebraska lawmakers who opposed Republicans' efforts to severely restrict abortion access have repeatedly cited the Norfolk case, saying it shows state prosecutors would target women who seek abortions for criminal prosecution.

(Read more Nebraska stories.)

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