A 38-year-old Seattle woman is in danger of dying in Malta due to complications from her pregnancy and the subsequent refusal of Maltese doctors to perform an abortion. The story of the woman, Andrea Prudente, 16 weeks pregnant, is not the first of its kind in the country: similar cases have already happened, because Malta is the only European state where abortion is still totally illegal and not even allowed. in cases of rape, incest or danger to the life of the woman.
Andrea Prudente had arrived in Malta with her partner in early June for a vacation. A few days later she began to bleed, she went to the hospital and the doctors told her that the placenta was partially detached and her fetus would not survive. Due to these complications, she is now in danger of developing a lethal infection or, in the case of total placental abruption, severe bleeding. However, since the fetus’s heart is continuing to beat, doctors have refused to terminate her pregnancy, as required by Maltese law: even though there is no chance of survival outside the womb and in the woman’s womb. there is no amniotic fluid left.
On the basis of a law dating back to 1724, in Malta those who undergo an abortion and those who procure it face up to three years in prison. It has been estimated that every year about 370 women go to other countries to have abortions: often in Sicily, where however they sometimes encounter very long waits. For this reason, there are frequent cases of women who resort to abortions performed clandestinely, with all the related health risks. When critical cases such as Prudente’s occur, within the first 24 weeks of pregnancy, international obstetrics guidelines recommend proposing abortion to avoid the onset of serious infections that could lead to the death of the woman.
Prudente and his partner, Jay Weeldreyer, have been stuck in the hospital for a week in a situation that they have compared to that of “hostages”: on the one hand, they are forced to wait for the miscarriage to run its course in order to receive medical assistance, and on the other they hope that in the meantime the haemorrhage and the detachment of the placenta will not cause a sepsis in the uterine cavity, further exposing Prudente to serious health risks.
In a telephone interview given to BBC, Weeldreyer said Maltese doctors would only intervene if the fetus stopped beating or Prudente began labor. “The child cannot survive, and nothing can be done to change that,” she explained, but in addition to being “in the position where we are losing a daughter we wanted,” the hospital is also exposing her partner more to health risks. The thing could have been resolved with a two-hour intervention, he continues, and instead “we are dragging ourselves” into a situation in which we do not know how it will end.
The couple hopes Prudente can be transported to the UK for emergency medical treatment. For now, however, due to health complications, doctors in Malta have refused to authorize transport by air ambulance.
Prudente’s case is reminiscent of Marion Mifsud Mora, a Canadian tourist who had to be transported to France in 2014 to undergo an emergency abortion, unable to receive medical assistance for some complications that always occurred while on vacation in Malta. . Some Maltese activists instead compared it to that of Savita Halappanavar, who had died two years earlier in an Irish hospital due to an infection caused by a miscarriage: even in that case the doctors refused to intervene, given that abortion was prohibited by law in Ireland at the time (it was legalized in 2018).
In recent years in Malta there have been various attempts to organize and protest to demand the legalization of abortion and something is slowly moving. According to some opinion polls cited by Reuters, however, the majority of Maltese are against allowing abortion, and even the country’s main parties have spoken out on several occasions against its introduction.
Lara Dimitrijevic, lawyer and president of the Women’s Rights Foundation of Malta, told a BBC that generally in cases such as Prudente’s, doctors wait for the fetus to be expelled spontaneously and eventually intervene only in cases where the health conditions of the woman are very serious. Dimitrijevic said he hopes the law will change soon, arguing that such a practice not only puts women’s lives at risk, but also creates great psychological trauma for them and their families. In these days, in solidarity with Prudente, the Maltese NGO Young Progressive Beings (YPB) has organized a new demonstration in favor of the right to abortion in front of parliament, asking that women have access to legal and safe termination of pregnancy.
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