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A US tourist in Malta has been refused a life-saving abortion, and is struggling to get permission to fly

INSIDER logo INSIDER 6/22/2022 amiller@insider.com (Anna Medaris)
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  • A Seattle couple was on their "babymoon" in Malta when the woman began miscarrying. 
  • The fetus has a "zero percent" chance of survival, but doctors won't terminate the pregnancy due to the country's strict abortion ban. 
  • The woman is facing life-threatening complications while waiting to be transferred to the UK.  

Seattle couple Andrea Prudente and Jay Weeldreyer were celebrating the upcoming birth of their first child in the Mediterranean when Prudente began bleeding heavily. She was 16 weeks pregnant. 

Doctors on the island of Gozo, near Malta, gave her medication to help prevent a miscarriage. But on June 12, a few days later in Malta, the couple's main destination, Prudente's water broke. At the hospital, she learned her placenta had become partially detached and, two days later, that she'd lost all amniotic fluid, the Guardian reported

Doctors told her the pregnancy had "zero chance" of survival — but that they coudn't remove it due to Malta's strict ban on abortion. 

Meanwhile, Prudente was diagnosed with a ruptured membrane and a protruding umbilical cord, greatly raising her risk of severe bleeding and infection. She also tested positive for COVID-19.

She and Weeldreyer are trying to get an immediate medical evacuation to the UK, where they believe a termination could save her life. But they've already been waiting nearly a week to get the appropriate paperwork to their insurance company, according to VICE World News

Until they can travel, Prudente must continue to wait for the fetus's heart to stop beating or develop an infection so severe her life is in immediate danger. Only then, will Maltese clinicians intervene, reports, including from the BBC, say. 

"I just want to get out of here alive," Prudente told the Guardian. "I couldn't in my wildest dreams have thought up a nightmare like this."

"It's an inconceivable form of emotional and psychological torture," Weeldreyer added. "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."

Malta has a total ban on abortion, but some groups say there are exceptions    

Malta, a chain of islands in the Mediterranean, is the only country in the EU with a total ban on abortion. Anti-abortion organizations in Malta say, however, that there are exceptions to the ban when the mother's life is at risk.  

"Maltese law and medical precedent are absolutely clear: if a woman's life is at risk from her pregnancy, then it is absolutely legal for her pregnancy to be ended by delivering the child, even if that child has a heartbeat, and even if the child will sadly pass away. This would not be considered in Maltese law or medicine as an abortion," OB-GYN Dr. George Gregory Buttigieg said in a statement sent to Insider. 

"As a Professor of Obstetrics, I have delivered babies prematurely in life threatening situations and have never been worried about legal repercussions." He and others, including representatives of Life Network Malta, and Doctors for Life point to the country's low maternal mortality rate as proof their model works. 

Still, hundreds of women travel abroad each year to obtain an abortion, and increasingly others have been illegally accessing the abortion pill, the BBC has reported.  

Doctors for Choice Malta has publicized Prudente's story, per her request, "in the hope of avoiding a tragedy" like Savita Halappanavar. The former dentist living in Ireland was 17 weeks pregnant when she began miscarrying in 2012. After being denied a termination due to the country's abortion ban at the time, she died of sepsis. 

"We hope common sense prevails and this woman is allowed to have a termination before it is too late," Doctors for Choice wrote on social media, referring to Prudente. "We have also heard from Maltese women who were in similar situations but were scared to speak out. This is not right. Women have beating hearts too!

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American OB-GYNs have speculated about similar situations occuring in the US if Roe v Wade is overturned. Making abortion only legal when the mother's life is at risk puts doctors in an "untenable position," Shaina Goodman, director for reproductive health and rights at the National Partnership for Women and Families, told Stateline. "At what point is the life of the mother at risk, when she's coding on the table?"

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