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How an American on vacation survived after Malta denied her a lifesaving abortion

Because doctors in Malta could still detect a fetal heartbeat, it was illegal to end Andrea Prudente's nonviable pregnancy.
Andrea Prudente during her medical emergency flight to Spain.
Andrea Prudente during her medical emergency flight to Spain.Courtesy Jay Weeldreyer
/ Source: TODAY

An American woman vacationing in Malta who was denied a lifesaving abortion while miscarrying was able to get care in Spain, the same day Roe v. Wade was overturned in the United States.

Andrea Prudente, 38, and Jay Weeldreyer, 45, planned to leave their babymoon in Malta with a slew of pictures and cherished memories. Instead, they left on an emergency flight to Spain. Malta has one of the strictest anti-abortion laws in the world — something the couple didn’t know before booking their vacation.

“A doctor overseeing my care in Malta told me my baby was going to die,” Prudente said while recovering in Majorca, Spain. “He said I was at risk of infection and hemorrhage, but because of the abortion laws in Malta he couldn’t do anything for me.”

After a perfectly healthy pregnancy, Prudente woke up in a pool of blood at 16 weeks gestation. Doctors told Prudente she was miscarrying — her placenta had partially detached and she was leaking amniotic fluid.

Malta is one of only a few countries in the European Union to ban abortion. Because doctors could still detect a fetal heartbeat, it was illegal to end Prudente’s nonviable pregnancy.

“I was in the bathroom and overheard the doctor tell Jay that if I was his patient, and we were in London where he also practices, he would have saw what he saw on the ultrasound and immediately given me medication to start the process of terminating the pregnancy,” Prudente explained. “But this is Malta.”

Mater Dei Hospital, where Prudente was treated, and the Maltese government did not immediately respond to a request for comment from NBC's "TODAY" show.

Dr. Isabel Stabile, a gynecologist and Doctors for Choice member practicing in Malta, reviewed Prudente’s medical notes and confirmed that her water did break and that there was next to no amniotic fluid left. There’s no way her baby could have survived.

Prudente and her partner decided the safest option was to fly to neighboring Spain, where she could obtain an abortion to safely help her body evacuate the pregnancy.

‘I was on a stretcher in the plane, focusing on staying calm’

Prudente left the hospital in Malta in an ambulance that drove straight to the airport. There was a significant danger that she’d bleed out during the two-hour flight.

“I was on a stretcher in the plane, focusing on staying calm and chill and to not have my body do anything scary,” she explained. “We understood there to be a serious risk of hemorrhage during the flight. So yeah, it was really scary.”

The plane used to transport Andrea Prudente from Malta to Spain to receive lifesaving abortion care.
The plane used to transport Andrea Prudente from Malta to Spain to receive lifesaving abortion care.Courtesy Jay Weeldreyer

The couple and the accompanying medical team safely landed in Majorca, Spain, where Prudente was immediately transported to a nearby hospital where she says she was welcomed with open arms.

Prudente and her partner were then presented with two options: Prudente could take a pill to stop the fetal heartbeat, then additional oral medication to induce labor and help her body deliver her daughter’s remains, or the doctors could perform a dilation and curettage (D&C) surgery. Both options are forms of abortion care.

Prudente went with the first option. “They gave me that first pill that night, which was heartbreaking and hard to emotionally take,” she said. “Later they started the tablets and I labored for eight hours, delivering early Saturday morning.”

Prudente said she didn’t feel like the care she received was “taboo” or something to be ashamed of. Instead, she said the medical staff treated her with compassion. She decided to see and hold her daughter after giving birth (a 16-week fetus is about the size of an avocado).

“They gave us this little box with blankets to choose from to put her in, and little ceramic stars to write her name on — one would hang on the tree of life in the hospital, and one would go home with us,” Prudente explained. “We made arrangements for what we wanted to happen to her in terms of burial or cremation.

“It was really hard, heartbreaking, gut wrenching, beautiful and cathartic experience,” she added. “We just held her and we cried.”

It wasn’t until days later that Prudente realized she had her abortion on the day the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, returning abortion rights back to the states.

Prudente and Weeldreyer live in Washington, a state that protects access to abortion care.

As the couple continues to rest in Majorca before flying home, Prudente and her partner say they keep thinking about how laws like Malta’s impact not just the people who seek abortion services, but people who want to be pregnant and experience pregnancy complications like the one Prudente survived.

“I think some anti-abortion people maybe have never considered instances like this,” Prudente said. “Like, sometimes your ideology crashes into a wall of reality.”

CORRECTION (June 29, 2022, 9:06 a.m. ET): A previous version of this article misstated Prudente’s age. She is 38, not 30.