Andrea Prudente traveled to Malta with her partner while she was 16 weeks pregnant for a special babymoon getaway, but things took a turn for the worst when she started bleeding heavily. She was quickly admitted to the local hospital where she said she was caught in a “nightmare” with doctors telling her that the fetus wouldn’t survive.
Malta is the only country in the European Union that outlaw’s abortion under any circumstances. Prudente asked the doctors to terminate the pregnancy, but they refused. Now she is afraid that giving birth could endanger her life, so she is being airlifted to another hospital in Spain.
The couple said Prudente’s water broke and there was no more amniotic fluid in her womb, which raises the risk of an infection. They said they were “stuck” in Malta after requesting a medical transfer to another country where they could safely end the pregnancy, but the doctors said she was unfit to travel.
“I just want to get out of here alive,” Prudente said from her hospital room in Malta’s capital, Valletta. “I couldn’t in my wildest dreams have thought up a nightmare like this.”
Prudente was able to secure a medical evacuation flight to Spain using her travel insurance.
“We certainly did not come for an abortion, but here we are talking about saving a woman’s life,” said Prudente’s partner, Jay Weeldreyer.
Abortion rights advocates in Malta say doctors refused to terminate the pregnancy even though the woman’s membranes were ruptured, and the placenta was detached because they could still detect a fetal heartbeat.
“It’s an inconceivable form of emotional and psychological torture,” Weeldreyer said. “Part of me still celebrates hearing the heartbeat … and at the same time, I don’t want that heartbeat there because this is just leading to more suffering for this woman that I love.”
Doctors in Malta reportedly told Prudente they “can only intervene if she is imminently dying,” even though she faced the strain of carrying a fetus that would not survive and the risk of infection, such as sepsis, or hemorrhaging. The group said obstetric guidelines typically recommend offering termination to avoid infection or death “in critical cases where the fetus is not yet viable, before 24 weeks.”
The nonprofit known as Doctors for Choice, which advocates for abortion access in Malta, added that many women in the country have experienced a similar situation but were “scared to speak out” for fear of retaliation.
According to the country’s laws, women that have an abortion and the doctors that perform the procedure could face jail time. However, prosecution and imprisonment haven’t been enforced in several years.
Abortion activists in Malta protested the country’s total ban on abortion Wednesday outside parliament. The group referenced Savita Halappanavar, who died of sepsis in an Irish hospital in 2012 after the doctors refused to terminate her pregnancy while she began to miscarry.
Lara Dimitrijevic, founder of Malta’s Women’s Rights Foundation and the lawyer representing Prudente, said the hospital only provided her medical records once she intervened, further delaying the transfer.
“It took a day for Andrea to receive her file and we are dealing with an emergency situation,” she said. “Every minute could lend itself to putting Andrea’s life in danger.”
Prudente said the doctors in Malta told her to wait in her hotel room for the fetus’s heartbeat to stop or for her to develop an infection, at which point they would be able to intervene.
“I feel like I’m being actively traumatized,” she said.
Weeldreyer added that they didn’t know Malta is the only country in the EU to ban abortion outright when they booked their trip.
Prudente said she is “desperate” to get off the island and receive appropriate medical care, but also wanted to raise awareness of the situation in Malta to prevent others suffering in the way that she had.
“I don’t want this to happen to more people,” she said.