'Emotional torture': US woman's life at stake as Malta refuses abortion and air travel

'Emotional torture': US woman's life at stake as Malta refuses abortion and air travel
Jay Weeldreyer and Andrea Prudente at Mater Dei Hospital. Credit: Personal image

Doctors have refused to perform a life-saving abortion on an American woman vacationing in Malta, despite the fetus having a “zero chance” of survival.

Andrea Prudente (38), who was hospitalised after severe bleeding occurred in the 16th week of her pregnancy, is at an “extreme risk” of haemorrhage and infection, but doctors in the national Mater Dei hospital refused to perform a termination due to the country’s blanket ban on abortion.

Malta’s blanket ban

The couple, living near Seattle, chose to visit Malta for their “babymoon” as the islands offer warm weather, a safe environment and good healthcare, according to the Times of Malta.

But as the only country in the European Union with a full ban on abortion, the holiday turned into “an inconceivable form of emotional and psychological torture,” Prudente’s husband Jay Weeldreyer said.

The only options for those seeking an abortion in Malta are to order illegal abortion pills online or to undergo the termination process overseas.

Prudente and her husband are seeking a medical transfer to the United Kingdom, but say the medical staff were uncooperative in their attempts to leave and in sharing medical records with the couple’s insurance company.

“I couldn’t in my wildest dreams have thought up a nightmare like this,” Prudente told The Guardian. “I just want to get out of here alive.”

Pro-life European leader

At the start of this year, Maltese politician Roberta Metsola was elected as the European Parliament's President despite representing a pro-life political party, resulting in the institute coming under fire.

Metsola has consistently voted for anti-abortion laws in national parliamentary resolutions and voted against the resolution that lead the Parliament to declare access to abortion a human right in 2021.

Despite her long-standing political and personal stance against the procedure, she said: “My position is the European Parliament’s position.” She has remained quiet on Prudente's case so far.

‘Emotional and psychological torture’

Prudente started bleeding heavily on the night of 12 June on the island of Gozo, where doctors prescribed her a drug to protect against miscarriage. However, two days later her water broke, and she was admitted to a hospital on the main island of Malta.

Two days later, the couple was told the baby could not survive, as Prudente’s placenta had become partially detached and a follow-up ultrasound found there was no amniotic fluid left in her womb.

They were informed that doctors could not do anything to end the pregnancy as long as the foetus had a heartbeat because of Malta’s abortion law.

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Upon being transferred to the national Mater Dei hospital, she was additionally diagnosed with a ruptured membrane and other complications, putting her at even greater risk of haemorrhage and infection.

She also tested positive for Covid-19 and is being kept in isolation and receiving antibiotics to ward off infection.

“It’s an inconceivable form of emotional and psychological torture,” Weeldreyer said, as medical staff came to check for a foetal heartbeat every day.

“Part of me still celebrates hearing the heartbeat … and at the same time, I don’t want that heartbeat there because this is just leading to more suffering for this woman that I love.”

Stuck in Malta

Malta’s Women’s Rights Foundation said the hospital delayed dispensing the file in the emergency situation. “Every minute could lend itself to putting Andrea’s life in danger,” founder Lara Dimitrijevic said in a statement.

Prudente explained that the medical staff advised her to leave the hospital and wait for the fetus’ heartbeat to stop or for her to develop an infection, after which they could intervene. “I feel like I’m being actively traumatised,” she said.

Maltese doctors will not issue a certificate to travel via air ambulance or a medical escort and told Prudente that taking a commercial flight could lead to complications and even death due to air pressure.

“We are stuck… We chose Malta because it was safe and had good health care and now we are held hostage to this situation,” her husband said.

Prudente said she is “desperate” to get off the island and receive appropriate medical care, but also wants to raise awareness of the situation in Malta to prevent others from suffering in the way that she is. “I don’t want this to happen to more people.”

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