A pro-abortion rally in Valletta. PHOTO: Joanna Demarco/Getty Images
An American woman and her partner who were denied a termination for an unviable pregnancy in Malta this summer have become the target of lurid conspiracy theories claiming that they were paid to have an abortion in the European island nation to try and change its strict abortion law.Andrea Prudente and Jay Weeldreyer were on holiday in Malta last June to celebrate their babymoon when Prudente, who was 16 weeks pregnant, began to experience problems.
She was kept in hospital for over a week where she was told the pregnancy was no longer viable, but Prudente could not receive an abortion to help remove the foetus because of Malta’s abortion ban even though she was at high risk of infection, which could have killed her.Eventually, she was airlifted to Spain for the healthcare that she needed. Her ordeal sparked international headlines and an inquiry into Malta’s abortion ban, which was instigated by the country’s health minister. Prudente has launched a legal case against the Maltese government claiming that the country breached her human rights. Malta, the only EU country with a total ban on abortion, is now considering amending its rules on abortion to make it legal if the mother’s life is at risk.While parliament has begun debating this new legislation, some high profile figures in Malta have tried to cast doubt over Prudente’s story and have even speculated that she and her partner were paid – possibly by the US or domestic abortion-rights activists – to come to Malta to stoke a debate about abortion. On Facebook, which is still widely used in Malta, these comments have spread and been repeated in groups with thousands of members. “You really need to be trash (but I was told I cannot use this word) to conspire with people abroad so a pregnant woman can be brought to Malta in order for a controversy to be raised over pregnancy termination because she faked being in danger,” former local MP Jason Azzopardi wrote on Facebook in November, according to an English translation provided by the the Malta Independent.
He added: “This is not hypothetical, this is not a theory. This is an objective and factual truth.” His post has been liked more than 500 times.Prudente’s legal team has filed a libel suit against Azzopardi, as well as against academic Simon Mercieca, a history professor who runs a blog and a Facebook group with 11,000 members. In late November his blog published a post it said was from a reader, which claimed that “two Americans gamed their child and the Maltese” and that “I suspect that Jay came to Malta not as a husband or father, but to usher in an acolyte carrying the sacrificial lamb.” The piece has been shared in a number of places, including the unofficial Archdiocese of Malta Facebook page, which has over 28,000 followers. “The current discourse is nothing but clear evidence of deep rooted misogynism in Malta,” said the couple’s lawyer, Lara Dimitrijevic, who filed the two libel cases. “One also cannot help but note that the false narratives being spun by the anti-choice and the same political party is the common mantra that is told by far right ideologists, particularly in the United States.” “At first I was shocked at the accusations coming out of Malta that Jay and I had faked our experiences as part of a giant “pro-abortion” publicity stunt,” Andrea Prudente told VICE World News. “But then, it pretty much fits. We have yet to encounter a single coherent argument supporting our treatment there as justified or right. The opposition is refusing to interact with the medical facts of our case.”
“They just seem like sad bullies, used to getting their own way by intimidating and bullying,” Jay Weeldreyer said. Referring to members of the Maltese government who oppose the kind of healthcare his partner needed, he added: “You already ruined our lives. These are bullies dancing on the grave of my daughter.” In late November, the state attorney representing Malta in Prudente’s legal case argued that her life was never at risk, something that was challenged at the time by Malta’s pro-abortion-rightsl group Doctors for Choice.As the law was debated in Maltese parliament, Bernard Grech, the leader of the Nationalist Party, mocked Prudente’s surname and dismissed her story. “A pregnant American woman travelled over 20 hours by plane to visit Malta for a babymoon,” he said. “I had never heard of a babymoon before, but you can see that even this American woman had referred to a baby.”“She didn’t refer to a few cells, an embryo or a foetus, but a baby… a human!”He added: “Her surname is Prudente, but as I already said, I think the doctors were more prudent than her.” An admin of a Facebook group speaking on condition of anonymity due to the amount of hate online told VICE World News that hate speech and misinformation around the couple is “really sad and infiltrating everywhere.” They have had to remove more comments and individuals than usual in the past few weeks from users breaking the group’s rules as they weigh in on the abortion debate. One Maltese woman who wishes to remain anonymous for the same reason told VICE World News that her mother called her over a week ago to tell her that Prudente had come to Malta “especially to have an abortion, and she was recruited from someone in parliament so that they can get the ball rolling with the abortion law,” and that she had heard this from a show on a local radio station.When the woman challenged her mother and asked why the couple would go through this ordeal for these reasons, she responded by saying they “probably paid her a lot of money”. Malta is expecting to hear news around the result of the debate any day now, with a further reading of the proposed amendment on the 19th of December. Correction: The top line of this story previously referred to Weeldreyer as Prudente’s husband, instead of her partner. We have updated the story to clarify.