'This needs to end': US couple to sue Malta over denial of life-saving abortion

'This needs to end': US couple to sue Malta over denial of life-saving abortion
Andrea Prudente being airlifted to Spain. Credit: Personal photo

A US couple that was denied the termination of a non-viable pregnancy when the mother’s life was at risk in Malta plans to sue the Maltese government for their “heart-breaking ordeal”.

Andrea Prudente (38) was on holiday in Malta when her water broke, 16 weeks into her pregnancy. Yet as the only EU country with a full abortion ban, doctors could not intervene despite Prudente's life being at stake. She was also prevented from travelling.

After her travel insurance deemed the case “life-threatening”, the couple was airlifted to Mallorca, Spain, for the life-saving termination. The procedure was successfully carried out there and Prudente was discharged on Sunday.

The incident happened days before the ‘Roe v Wade’ ruling that protected women’s right to have an abortion was overturned in the US, allowing states to declare most abortions illegal while anti-abortion forces are pushing for near-total bans in every state.

‘Zero compassion’

“Once we’re home and have dealt with the wreckage, we will take any action available against Malta. This was inhumane and we want to do what we can to prevent it from ever happening again,” said Prudente’s husband Jay Weeldreyer (45) in an interview with the Times of Malta.

On top of the loss of their child, the couple stress that “There was nothing to be gained, we couldn’t have saved the baby. Why hang on to this law and let this keep happening? Why put women’s lives at risk?"

“I was told: ‘Sorry you’re going to lose your child. Also, we’re going to take your wife.’ I don’t think anybody should ever have to accept that,” Weeldreyer said.

He stressed that this was a wanted pregnancy and that the Maltese health carers had “zero compassion” for their ongoing loss. “They knew we wanted the baby and that we were suffering, but there was no compassion.”

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In Mallorca, on the other hand, they were treated “like they were losing a loved one... The doctors in Spain could not believe what had happened. It was clear that the baby had gone. The only procedure is to protect you.”

After the procedure, the couple wrote the baby’s name, Claire, on a porcelain star and placed it in the Mallorcan hospital’s maternity ward.

Lethal legalities

As the only EU country with a total ban on abortion, debate on the topic has been animated in Malta. On Monday, 135 doctors signed a judicial protest asking for a review of the blanket ban following the case of the couple.

The termination of unviable pregnancies where a heartbeat is still detected in the fetus is delayed until the woman’s life is deemed to be at risk.

However, the principle of ‘double effect’ states that it is sometimes acceptable to cause harm as a side effect of bringing about a good result. This means that if a doctor were to intervene with the sole intention of saving the mother’s life, the death of an unborn fetus would be considered an undesired consequence.

The Malta College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists have said that they have “always prioritised the mother’s safety when deciding how to deal with a problematic pregnancy”.

A spokesperson for the health authorities said they could not comment on the specific case as doing so would be in breach of confidentiality.

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