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Nebraska mother sentenced to 2 years in prison for giving abortion pills to pregnant daughter

Jessica Burgess admitted to helping her then-17-year-old daughter end her pregnancy. Her daughter was sentenced in July to 90 days in jail and two years of probation for burning and burying the fetus

Protesters line the street around the front of the Nebraska State Capitol during an Abortion Rights Rally held on July 4, 2022
Protesters line the street around the front of the Nebraska State Capitol during an Abortion Rights Rally held on July 4, 2022, in Lincoln, Neb.KENNETH FERRIERA (AP)

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.

Burgess, of Norfolk, Nebraska, admitted at her plea hearing to helping her then-17-year-old daughter 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 of probation for burning and burying the fetus.

The abortion, well into the teen’s third trimester, violated Nebraska law at the time that banned 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 following a tip, according to an arrest affidavit. Police secured a search warrant to gain access to Facebook messages between the two, where 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.”

During the legislative session that ended in June, Nebraska lawmakers who opposed Republicans’ efforts to severely restrict abortion access repeatedly cited the Norfolk case, saying it shows state prosecutors would target women who seek abortions for criminal prosecution.

Republicans in the officially nonpartisan Nebraska Legislature failed this year to enact a six-week ban on abortions, but later passed a 12-week ban after adding it as an amendment to another bill limiting gender-affirming care for transgender youth. The American Civil Liberties Union has sued to overturn the abortion ban and transgender care bill, citing a Nebraska constitutional requirement that legislative bills stick to a single subject.

Both the legislative action and the sentencing in the Norfolk case came in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision last year to overturn Roe v. Wade, which for 50 years had established a constitutional right to abortion.

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