Malta’s government announced Thursday a review of its abortion ban, following controversy about a US woman who was refused an abortion, even though the baby had miscarried and threatened her life.
Parts of Maltese law “that prevent doctors from providing care when it is needed” would be looked at, said the country’s Health Minister Chris Fearne.
This is the first comment the Maltese government has made since the international outcry and protests inside the country over the case of Andrea Prudente last week.
The 38-year-old from Seattle was refused an abortion at a Malta hospital last week after suffering an incomplete miscarriage on the Mediterranean island.
Her fetus had no chance of survival and was at risk of causing Prudente potentially fatal haemorrhaging and infection. However, doctors refused to intervene because of the country’s strict abortion law.
Malta, a predominantly Catholic country, is the only European Union member state to ban abortion completely — without any exceptions.
Prudente, who was 16 weeks pregnant, and her partner Jay Weeldreyer were medically evacuated to Spain, where Prudente was later treated.
The couple had come to Malta for their babymoon, a celebratory holiday for parents to bond before their child is born.
Domestic protests and international attention
Their case provoked protests by members of Malta’s medical profession and drew international attention to the country’s legislation, which is rooted in British colonial law imposed on the island in the 1800s.
“The Maltese law should in no way prevent our doctors and professionals from saving lives,” said Fearne, himself a former surgeon.
Anyone found to have performed an abortion or caused a miscarriage can face up to four years in prison. This includes both doctors and pregnant women.
“I have the assurance of the state lawyer [Malta’s top legal official] that in cases like this, no action is taken against medical professionals who are administering treatment and doing their utmost to save lives,” Fearne said.
“This is not an isolated case […] It has happened before and will happen again,” he added.
However, Fearne did not mention a possible change in the law of the land, where the subject is rarely discussed by politicians.
Neither the Mater Dei hospital, where Prudente was hospitalised, nor the Maltese government have commented on the case.
On Monday, more than 130 Maltese doctors filed a legal challenge to the abortion ban, saying it prevented doctors from providing “immediate and timely care”.
“Our laws are neglecting these women, risking their lives needlessly,” said Gynaecologist Isabel Stabile, who led the doctors’ protest and helped Prudente and her partner.
“Most women living here do not have private insurance to help them evacuate to get their much-needed treatment abroad,” Stabile added.
Malta is the first European country the US couple had ever visited.
“We wanted to come here and have a romantic, connecting and loving two-week holiday to celebrate having a family,” Weeldreyer told Euronews on 24 June. “Instead we are having to face Andrea’s peril.”