The US State Department’s travel advisory for Malta warns of potential terrorist activity in Europe despite no recent history of attacks on the Mediterranean island nation, that there’s violence at nightclubs, and that the main hospital offers a “full service”. But it makes zero mention of the fact that Malta is the only EU country to ban and criminalise abortion in all circumstances.
“I could see it was a member of the EU, that it had really high ratings for healthcare,” said Jay Weeldreyer, who planned a babymoon holiday with his pregnant partner Andrea Prudente months ago. He had seen no information about how the country’s abortion laws could affect them if they were to experience pregnancy problems; when the pregnancy was discovered to be unviable halfway through their trip last week, the hospital refused to give them an abortive procedure and they had to get a medical evacuation to Spain, further prolonging their trauma and grief.
The US is not alone in excluding information about Malta’s abortion laws in its foreign travel advice, but its issue has been brought into sharp focus by the US Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade, the case that legalised abortion across the country. VICE World News has been unable to find a single country that gives information on local reproductive laws on websites for nationals looking to travel abroad.
Leah Hoctor, senior regional director for Europe at the Center for Reproductive Rights, said: “As the chilling set of circumstances endured by Andrea Prudente in Malta exemplify, laws that ban and criminalize abortion have serious repercussions for peoples’ lives and health.
“Many countries do currently provide public information to their citizens as part of travel advisories regarding laws and policies that criminalize sexual conduct outside of marriage or same-sex relationships. Updating such guidance to include information about the criminalization of reproductive healthcare, where relevant, would be an important step for ensuring people understand the implications of these laws.”
VICE World News contacted several countries about why they did not include information on abortion laws, and received responses from the United States, Germany, Sweden and the United Kingdom. We did not receive responses from the foreign offices of Spain, France and the Netherlands.
The UK Foreign Office did not supply a reason for not including travel advisories around reproductive rights, saying “each country-specific page has general information on local healthcare” and that British nationals can call the consulate for assistance if they need help.
A spokesperson from Germany’s Federal Foreign Office said: “Our travel advice includes basic travel medical information. It does not include special advise on countries’ abortion laws. We expressly point out that despite the best possible efforts, the medical information on our web pages is always only an offer of advice. It cannot cover all medical aspects and eliminate all doubts.
“The travel advice for each country contains a call to make sure to have adequate travel health insurance that also covers medical repatriation. Travellers stay responsible for their own health.”
The Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Sweden’s press office told VICE World News: “It is up to the traveller to investigate the conditions at their destination that may affect them and ensure that they have proper insurance cover.”
A US Department of State spokesperson said: “Our Country Specific Information provides a range of important information, including entry and exit requirements, safety and security conditions, crime, health and medical considerations, local laws, areas to avoid, and more. We are committed to providing US citizens with up-to-date and timely information, so they are informed as much as possible when they make international travel plans and when they are abroad.”
They added that their advice was not intended to be “comprehensive summaries of all local laws.” The US also has a dedicated page for women travellers that covers sexual assault, female genital cutting and forced marriage, but nothing on reproductive healthcare.
Recently the British doctor and content creator Maddy Lucy Dann, who has spoken extensively about supporting abortion rights to her 876,000 TikTok followers, cancelled a sponsored trip promoting tourism to Malta after seeing VICE World News’ coverage of the country’s abortion laws.
She told VICE World News over Instagram: “I always wonder whether a lot of government advice is not updated. Because it is such a sensitive issue for some people, it’s not yet viewed as healthcare, as an option. Maybe it’s felt that it shouldn’t be spoken about.”
Referring to US tourists Prudente and Weeldreyer’s situation, Dann continued: “This is all where it goes a bit dystopian because we can all agree she needed an abortive procedure.
“I think it was reasonable that they saw it was the EU and thought it would be safe, they looked at how well the country’s healthcare was rated - yet the advice didn’t bring abortion into it. For me it’s informed consent, giving them the reality - that it’s something you should be aware of. If the countries won’t publicise information on abortion then somebody’s got to do it.”
The director of the UK’s End Violence Against Women Coalition, Andrea Simon, said: “At this critical moment in history when we’re seeing a significant and disturbing rollback in this area of women’s rights, we call on the UK and international community to demonstrate their commitment to women’s ability to access this fundamental right to healthcare.
“The UK government must show that it takes its obligation to ensuring women can access this fundamental right seriously, including when they travel abroad.”
The Center for Reproductive Rights’s website includes a map that details which countries have abortion restrictions.