Andrea Prudente and Jay Weeldreyer, a US couple holidaying in Malta, have been forced to seek medical repatriation in the UK after Prudente, who is 16 weeks pregnant, began losing blood.
When Prudente sought medical help, it was later diagnosing that her placenta had become partially detached, with doctors concluding that the pregnancy was no longer viable. She is currently at Mater Dei Hospital.
According to Weeldreyer, speaking in an interview to the BBC: “With the haemorrhaging and the separation of the placenta from the uterus, with the membrane fully ruptured and the baby's umbilical cord protruding through Andrea's cervix, she stands at an extraordinarily high risk of infection - all of which could be prevented.”
Despite this diagnosis, under Maltese law it is illegal for the couple to seek an abortion while the foetus’s heart is still beating - even though the procedure could be potentially lifesaving for Prudente.
Weeldreyer added that: “The baby can't live, there's nothing that can be done to change that. We wanted her, we still want her, we love her, we wish she could survive, but she won't. And not only are we in a spot when we're losing a daughter that we wanted, but the hospital is also prolonging Andrea's exposure to risk.”
The hospital has said that it will act if Andrea goes into labour – which will take approximately a further six months, during which she is subject to an extremely high risk of infection – or if she suffers a miscarriage in the meantime.
Consequently, the only options left to the couple if they remained in Malta are to hope that Andrea manages to survive the next half year, or that their baby’s heart stops beating during the course of pregnancy.
According to the BBC, Andrea and Jay currently seeking a medical repatriation to the UK, funded through their travel insurance, where the law will permit them to end the pregnancy, and allow them, they say, ‘to grieve’.
Malta bans abortions even for cases of rape, or to save the mother’s life
Malta has some of Europe’s strictest abortion laws – termination of pregnancy, under any circumstances, including when the foetus has no chances of survival, is illegal.
Under laws outlined in Malta’s Criminal Code, those performing an abortion, even with the consent of the woman involved, are liable for imprisonment for ‘a period of between 18 months to three years’. In the case of licenced medical professionals, the law also states that if convicted, they will suffer ‘perpetual interdiction’ (banning) from practicing medicine. Likewise, women who consent to have an abortion can be imprisoned for the same duration.
According to Doctors for Choice, a Maltese campaign group made up of medical professionals, ‘there are no exceptions in the law to allow an abortion when the woman’s health is at risk, in cases of severe foetal malformation, or in cases of rape or incest’.
However, the organisation also notes that in practice, ‘nobody has been taken to court in Malta for having an abortion in the last five years, and nobody has been imprisoned… in the last 25 years’ despite the apparently frequent use of illegal or ‘telemedicine’ abortion services on the island.
Andrea and Jay’s case highlights the need for pregnant travellers, even those in their first and second trimesters, to investigate laws surrounding pregnancy and abortion in the countries they are planning to visit – even if the need to obtain an abortion seems unthinkable – or to even consider whether they should visit their prospective destination at all.
The case also highlights the importance of medical repatriation coverage to safeguard against unforeseen medical events.
Malta is part of an ‘elite’ group of countries in which abortion, even on life-saving grounds, is banned outright. According to the World Population Review, this list of 25 countries also includes: Andorra, Angola, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Dominican Republic, Egypt, El Salvador, Gabon, Haiti, Honduras, Iraq, Laos, Madagascar, the Marshall Islands, Mauritania, Micronesia, Nicaragua, Palau, Philippines, Republic of the Congo, San Marino, Sao Tome and Principe, Senegal, Suriname, and Tonga. In addition, a number of countries permit abortions under a heavy set of restrictions.
UPDATE: the couple have been flown to Mallorca, a Spanish island, where Prudente will underdo the procedure she needs.