Andrea Prudente is still processing the “emotional remains”, three months after she was refused a life-saving abortion in Malta.
“Having a miscarriage is traumatic for all women, especially when it’s a planned birth,” she says The Independent.
“Physically I’m intact, almost regaining my health and more or less healthy. But the psychological damage, that was really challenging.”
Ms Prudente, 38, suffered an incomplete miscarriage while on a babymoon holiday with her partner Jay Weeldreyer in June.
Because of the total prohibition of the Mediterranean island nation on the procedure, even in cases of rape and incest. She spent a week in hospital seriously ill, with doctors who didn’t seem to be sympathetic.
After seven days, she and Mr. Weeldreyer took the decision to prohibit the air ambulance 1100km to a hospital in Mallorca, Spain, risky but necessary flights, where she can have the procedure.
Now back home from Issaquah, Washington, she is determined to make sure no other women in the island nation have to suffer the same “man-made catastrophe”.
Last week, Mrs Prudente launched an audacious legal bid in the First Chamber of the Civil Court of Malta to overturn the country’s constitutional ban on abortion.
In the filing, Mrs. Prudente says that the Government violated her human rights and the rights of all Maltese women, and is seeking an award for compensatory damages.
“Being in a really deep way completely removed and dehumanized and basically told in no uncertain terms that my life was less important than the life of a hypothetical baby, that took its toll on me,” she says. The Independent.
“Part of the cause is to take back my power and say it wasn’t good.”
The lawsuit comes as the small island nation grapples with its place as the last European country to deny women the right to choose, pitting it against the two main political parties, activists against abortion, and the Catholic Church.
Women are jailed for up to three years for having the procedure, while a doctor can be jailed for four – as well as losing their medical licence.
Earlier this year, Council of Europe Human Rights Commissioner Dunja Mijatović stated that Malta’s blanket ban on abortion puts women’s rights at “significant risk”. and urged the nation’s authorities to revoke provisions that make abortion a crime.
In response to Mrs Prudente’s case, the anti-abortion group Life Network Foundation Malta have urged the Government which “chooses the best legal advisers to defend life”.
The Maltese government last year enacted a review of its laws on abortion in response to the case of Mrs Prudente, Malta Today reported.
Opinion polls show that the tide may be turning, in a country where more than 90 percent of the population is Catholic.
“It seems that more people are coming around to the idea that in some cases the pro-life position is to offer a choice to a woman and abortion is just a medical treatment,” says Ms. Prudente. The Independent.
“I decided that living with integrity meant standing up to say this is not OK, and using the legal system as a tool with which this can be done in a meaningful way.”
From an idyllic vacation to a dystopian nightmare
The couple arrived on the small island of Gozo, just north of Malta, at the beginning of June for a vacation that had been planned for a long time to celebrate the birth of their first child.
On June 12, Ms. Prudente began to bleed profusely and the doctors gave her medicine to try to prevent miscarriage.
Two days later while she was back on the main island of Malta, her waters broke and she was admitted to St. Thomas Hospital near the capital Valletta. There the doctors informed her that the baby’s placenta had partially detached from her uterus.
An ultrasound 48 hours later confirmed the heartbreaking news that there was no amniotic fluid in the womb, and that their 16-week-old unborn daughter, whom they named Claire, would not survive. .
The doctors completely refused Mrs. Prudente an abortion due to the nation’s total ban on the procedure, even in extreme conditions where the mother’s life is at risk and the baby is no longer viable.
Mrs. Prudente was transferred to Mater Dei Hospital, where her life hung in the balance for several days as she and Mr. Weeldreyer did interviews with global media organizations asking for some kind of human intervention.
Mrs Prudente says the hospital provided her with a bereavement counsellor, who put them in touch with the pro-choice group Doctors for Choice.
From there she was introduced to the lawyer Lara Dimitrijevic, founder of the advocacy group the Women’s Rights Foundation, which had been laying the legal basis for challenging the ban on abortion in the country for years. .
Every year around hundreds of Maltese women are forced to travel abroad to have an abortion, while around four women in Malta go through a similar life-threatening experience, says Mrs Prudente.
Mrs. Dimitrijevic told her that she could not convince the local women to become actors in the case because of the social stigma, and the fear of being ostracized by their families.
“I found myself in this unique position as a foreigner where I will not suffer those kinds of consequences for standing up and talking about something I think is wrong,” said Ms. Prudente.
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“It was part of motherhood”
On June 24, the day that Roe v. Wade capsized, Mrs. Prudente boarded an air ambulance and, accompanied by a surgeon, a nurse and Mr. Weeldreyer, flew 700 odd miles from Malta to Mallorca, a Spanish island in the Mediterranean.
He told her that the risk to her life was great, but that staying in Malta was not an option.
When she arrived exhausted at the Son Espases University Hospital in Palma de Mallorca, Mrs Prudente said she was hugged by the hospital staff.
“It was a very humane welcome, with a strong relief for our experience in Malta.”
The couple were placed in the maternity ward, across the ward from where healthy babies were being born.
There, a pill was given to stop the baby’s heartbeat. Two days later, she was given another pill to induce labour, and she gave birth eight hours later.
The hospital staff let her keep her daughter, and gave her two ceramic stars to write Claire’s name on. One to take home and one to hang on a tree in the hospital where all the babies born there go.
“They treated us like it was part of the natural experience, like it was part of motherhood.”
“I am overwhelmed with gratitude for the staff there. They led us through something that was truly heartbreaking but also loving and truly life-affirming.”
According to Spanish law, abortion is allowed up to the 14th week of pregnancy and up to the 22nd week when the woman’s life or health is in danger.
The couple eventually returned home on July 1 without the luggage, which was lost at Frankfurt airport.
Returning to her country where some states had already passed the kind of draconian abortion laws that had threatened her life was a surreal experience, and much of the media attention became about her views on the subject.
“People were wanting me to be an activist for abortion rights and at that time I was still in the thick of the trauma.
“I have always been pro-choice but I think abortion needs to be regulated. Laws need to be based on facts and nuances, there are so many situations that justify this.”
“General bans on abortion do not make sense. There are situations where it is only medical care. There was no baby to save in my case. Some of the laws are quite black and white, where there is no viable baby.
“A 16 week old baby without amniotic fluid cannot live so why put my life at risk and prolong the suffering. It is not based on real life human experience.”
A photographer by trade, Mrs. Prudente specializes in taking profile pictures for online dating apps.
“It’s a pretty big deal here,” she says. “It’s fun and super-rewarding, helping people find love.”
Mrs. Prudente hopes that her story can reach anti-abortion activists in Malta and the United States.
“Perhaps the people who are really anti-abortion can hear some of the details of my story and just for a moment put themselves in their shoes or imagine that I am a woman they love.
“Sometimes it’s the right thing to do, because there was only one life to save in my case. Maybe there is some room for some softness, some nuance in the law that prevents this kind of unnecessary suffering.”