A US Tourist’s Life Is At Risk Because of Malta’s Strict Anti-Abortion Laws

Andrea Prudente's pregnancy is unviable, but no doctor in Malta can terminate it. Her husband told VICE World News that what she's enduring is “torture.”

Maltese doctors fear an American tourist’s life is at risk as a result of Malta’s strict abortion ban, because the hospital she is in refuses to perform an abortion despite the fact her baby will not survive and she is at high risk of infection.

Malta has the strictest abortion laws in the European Union, and it’s the only country in the bloc that completely prohibits and criminalises the procedure. Terminations are allowed only if the mother is “imminently dying”.

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Andrea Prudente and Jay Weeldreyer from Seattle were on holiday in the country when she experienced problems 16 weeks into her pregnancy. 

They were told the pregnancy was no longer viable, but the Maltese hospital they are in has refused to terminate the pregnancy as a heartbeat from the foetus can still be detected.

The couple is trying to get an immediate medical evacuation to the UK, but they’ve been waiting six days getting information for their insurance company to process the request.

Pro-choice group Doctors for Choice says the way Prudente is being treated shows a disregard for the welfare of women. “Women have beating hearts too,” the group said in a statement. 

Most doctors in the country are anti-abortion, although pro-choice activism has become increasingly there in the last few years. 

Activists hold up banners in both English and Maltese reading, 'I decide', 'Abortion is a woman's right', at a protest earlier this month. PHOTO: AP Photo/Kevin Schembri Orland

Around 300-400 Maltese women travel abroad every year to get an abortion, usually to the UK. However, some women are now able to obtain illegal abortion pills by post, thanks to the increase of awareness in telemedical terminations the COVID pandemic brought.  

Women who speak out about their experiences of travelling abroad for abortions, or who are clandestinely supporting women needing to terminate pregnancies in Malta, say the experiences are highly traumatic

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Prudente and Weeldreyer went on holiday to Malta to celebrate their first pregnancy together – a “babymoon”, Weeldreyer calls it. They travelled once Prudente had completed her first trimester and it was deemed safe to fly. 

But days into the holiday, Prudente lost a lot of blood and then around 350 ml of clear fluid. “Like 12 ounces, I’d say a drink bottle’s worth,” Weeldreyer told VICE World News over the phone. 

He said Prudente waited a long time for a physical examination after first seeking medical attention; when they first went to a Maltese hospital on 12 June, the doctor just increased her progesterone levels after meeting her. But four days later, an ultrasound confirmed that her uterus was partially open and that her umbilical cord was protruding through it, but that the baby’s heart was still beating. The water she had lost had been amniotic fluid. 

“In any other situation, it’s a simple, common procedure,” Weeldreyer says of terminating an unviable pregnancy. But doctors have refused to do it. 

Prudente and Weeldreyer. PHOTO: SUPPLIED

The couple have been left with two options: Stay in Malta and wait for whatever happens, which could include Prudente becoming extremely sick or even dying, or get a medical evacuation to a country that will perform the procedure. 

“The fact that this falls under the purview of an abortion clause has never occurred to me,” he added, given that they have been told the pregnancy is no longer viable. 

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He claims repeated attempts to get hold of medical records to send to their insurance company were a nightmare. “They outright refused for almost a full day, they gave me a run around. I was standing outside the clerical room with them in and the women in there were scowling at me. Finally one of them give me the envelope with the photocopies in and said, ‘Are you happy now?’”

He added he also spoke to some kind members of staff. He says one told him: “I can’t say the name but I can’t stop you searching your computer,” which led him to resources that told him about a UK medical evacuation.

Doctors for Choice, a campaign group of pro-choice doctors in Malta, put out a Facebook post on Tuesday night at Prudente’s request, writing: “We hope common sense prevails and this woman is allowed to have a termination before it is too late. We have also heard from Maltese women who were in similar situations but were scared to speak out. This is not right. Women have beating hearts too!”


“What is hard to convey is the torture that has happened since she’s been checked in here,” Weeldreyer said. “She’s getting poked multiple times a day, blood, every day they’ll check a heartbeat, they aren’t facilitating her to go into labour. The baby’s heartbeat may or may not stop. It is a daily reminder of the baby we can’t have, and a child that poses her a life threatening risk. She tested positive for COVID when we arrived so she’s being quarantined too.”

It is not the first time Maltese doctors have refused to terminate an unviable pregnancy. In 2020, one woman wrote about her experience of having her waters break at 17 weeks, developing an infection and where the hospital attempted to delay the medical evacuation process. 

“I saw Malta was part of the EU, I saw it had high ratings of its healthcare system,” Weeldreyer says, recalling his experience researching the trip. “I would never conceive a miscarriage being seen or treated as an abortion.” 

Mater Dei told The Guardian it had given Prudente access to her medical records, but did not comment further on the case. Mater Dei and Malta’s Ministry of Health did not respond to requests for comment from VICE World News.

Tagged:

european union, Malta, womens reproductive rights, worldnews

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