In the US state of Nebraska, a 17-year-old girl and her mother are being charged with an abortion. Police found evidence of the abortion in chat conversations passed on from Facebook.
The case concerns 17-year-old Celeste Burgess and her mother, Jessica Burgess. She is said to have performed an abortion on herself outside the legal term of 20 weeks with the help of her mother.
In the US, the right to abortion has been cancelled by the Supreme Court for several weeks. This means several states have (re)introduced very strict abortion laws quickly. But there is also a lot of discussion about laws prohibiting women from having an abortion in another state, and data collection may indicate such actions.
In this case, the police received a tip that the underage woman may have had a miscarriage and investigated the matter. That’s why Facebook sent a search warrant for her account, giving the police access to the chat messages between mother and daughter. They are currently being charged with ‘removing, concealing or leaving a dead body and concealing someone dead,’ referring to the unborn fetus.
The case is causing a stir for several reasons. For example, the minor is tried as an adult in this case. But there are also many questions in which circumstances Facebook shares your intimate conversations with others.
Parent company Meta has, in the meantime, defended itself. According to Forbes, the police order did not state that it was an investigation into an illegal abortion. Instead, the company says it was told it was a criminal investigation into a possible stillborn child who was allegedly burned and buried. Meta was also not allowed to communicate with the police about her role until now. We also have to nuance that the impetus to arrest a woman for an abortion does not come from Facebook. According to Jezebel, it’s usually done by medical personnel, who also risk jail time if they don’t.
At the same time, Meta’s attitude to abortion is very ambiguous. On the one hand, it already announced internally that it would, for example, reimburse employees if they have to travel to another state because of an abortion. At the same time, since the abolition of Roe V. Wade (the case that guaranteed the right to abortion), users noticed that, for example, posts or advertisements about abortion pills were systematically removed. But misinformation ads from anti-abortion groups continue to pop up on company platforms.