Facebook Gave Cops Data To Prosecute Nebraska Teenager Who Allegedly Had An Abortion

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A Nebraska teenager and her mother are facing a handful of felonies after state officials alleged the girl self-managed an abortion, but told police she’d miscarried after 28 weeks.

Prosecutors are resting much of their case on Facebook messages exchanged between the 18-year-old and her mother, which they say shows the two discussing the proper method for the daughter to take medicine that would terminate her pregnancy.

Facebook’s parent company, Meta, turned the data over in June in response to a search warrant seeking the daughter and mother’s information, including their private messages and their internet search history.

Messages between the two, released in court documents obtained by Motherboard, show them discussing plans, including how they intended to dispose of the fetus afterward by burning and burying it.

Daughter: “Are we starting it today”

Mother: “We can if u want the one will stop the hormones”

Daughter: “Ok”

Mother: “Ya the 1 pill stops the hormones an rehn [sic] u gotta wait 24 HR 2 take the other”

Daughter: “Ok”

Daughter: “Remember we burn the evidence”

Abortion in Nebraska is illegal if the fetus is more than 20 weeks post-fertilization, with limited exceptions in the case of life endangerment. (Nebraska did not have a trigger law in place, like several other states, to outlaw abortion entirely if Roe v. Wade fell.)

According to the court documents, police in Norfolk obtained the teen’s medical records as a result of a tip in late April that she had miscarried. When officers interviewed the girl and her mother three days after the miscarriage, they told a detective she’d had a stillbirth and voluntarily showed the officer where they’d buried the fetus.

At that time, the detective says he noticed the teen, who was 17 at the time, had used Facebook Messenger to communicate with her mother the night of the stillbirth. Having seen the app on her phone, he decided to serve Meta/Facebook with a search warrant for information from both their accounts.

Facebook defended its actions, noting in a statement that it was a valid warrant related to a criminal investigation and made no mention of abortion.

But internet watchdogs say that’s no defense, casting the incident as yet another in a long string of Meta’s privacy failures.

“These companies’ hypocritical surveillance practices make them complicit in the criminalization of people seeking, facilitating, and providing abortions,” said Caitlin Seeley George, the managing director of Fight For The Future, a nonprofit digital advocacy group.

George urged Meta to make end-to-end encrypted communication on Facebook the default for all messages sent on the platform, as it already has for WhatsApp, another product Meta owns.

“Doing so will literally save pregnant peoples’ lives,” she said.

The daughter and mother each face one felony charge of removing, concealing or abandoning a dead human body, and two misdemeanors: concealing the death of another person, and false reporting.

The teenager also has been charged with two additional felonies: performing or attempting to perform an abortion at more than 20 weeks, and performing an abortion as a non-licensed doctor.

Medication abortion is a safe and effective way to terminate pregnancy. Planned Parenthood says abortion pills are used to terminate pregnancy at 11 weeks or earlier, after which an in-clinic procedure is recommended.

Even before Roe fell, most states in the U.S. restricted abortion after fetal viability, which is generally considered to be about 24 weeks. In 2019, less than 1% of abortions were performed after 21 weeks, CDC data shows.

Self-managing an abortion is not illegal in the U.S. Only Nevada, South Carolina and Oklahoma have laws on the books criminalizing people for self-managing abortions, but legal experts caution that it’s unclear if those laws would even stand up in court if challenged today.

This article originally appeared on HuffPost and has been updated.

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