Andrea Prudente case: No country for pregnant women

Here is what Maltese MPs seem intent on telling us: ‘Sorry, but no. We will continue to needlessly endanger women’s lives, because…because we’re ‘Pro-Life’…”

Andrea Prudente (right) with her partner in Malta
Andrea Prudente (right) with her partner in Malta

“I just want to get out of here alive,” she said. “I couldn’t in my wildest dreams have thought up a nightmare like this…”

In case you were wondering: no, that’s not a line from the latest Coen Brothers psycho-thriller. They are the actual words of Andrea Prudente - the American tourist who was unfortunate enough to suffer ‘pregnancy problems’ [note: I won’t be going into any medical jargon, in this article], while on holiday here in sunny, ‘pro-life’ Malta.

And they were uttered at a time when she was still experiencing the psychological ‘torture’ of ‘being held hostage’ (her own words, once more) at Mater Dei Hospital.

Interestingly enough, however: it turns out that the ‘nightmare’ that caused this woman to fear for her life, had very little to do with the actual condition of her pregnancy itself. Or at least: not at the time when she first sought medical assistance, way back on 12 June.

Naturally, I lack the medical qualifications to give you a full breakdown of what caused her to spontaneously miscarry, after only 16 weeks. But even as a layman, I can safely assert that the medical condition she presented herself with at Mater Dei, would have been treated on the spot – by means of a very simple, straightforward procedure – in any other hospital in Europe; or indeed, anywhere else the entire world (with maybe a couple of exceptions here and there: including the last remaining ‘uncontacted tribes’, still living somewhere in the Amazon Jungle…)

Now: to be fair, we must also concede that this procedure may be very ‘simple’, ‘straightforward’, and all that… but it isn’t exactly what you would call ‘pleasant’, or ‘desirable’ (least of all in this particular case, where – unlike so many other similar circumstances – the pregnancy in question was both wanted, and planned.)

But yes. The procedure itself is called an ‘abortion’; and in this case – and many thousands of others like it – it is universally considered a NECESSARY medical intervention, for at least three reasons I can think up off the top of my head.

1) Because the pregnancy itself would usually be (as it was, in this particular instance) ‘unviable’; so if the intention really is to ‘save the life of the foetus’… it’s medically a non-starter, anyway;

2) Because the longer the unviable pregnancy is left to persist, uninterrupted – which is another way of saying: ‘the longer it takes for the foetus to die a natural death, instead of an induced one’ – the greater the chance that the mother might develop any number of potentially life-threatening complications… and;

3) Because, quite apart from the increased risk of infection, etc… the prolonged wait would only force the patient to go through precisely the sort of psychological trauma, that Andrea Prudente herself described in terms of ‘torture’, above.  (And funnily enough, I was under this vague impression that the whole point of having such things as ‘doctors’, and ‘nurses’, and so on, was to actually TREAT people for trauma… and certainly not to inflict it on their patients themselves!)

At this point, I am tempted to add a fourth: because the only realistic alternative to an abortion, in circumstances such as these, is to…

… well, to do what the medical establishment at Mater Dei so clearly did, over the past three weeks. (Or ‘tried to do’, anyway: for in the end, it had to be the patient’s private insurance to step in, and rescue her from the nightmarish Catch-22 situation she had found herself caught up in. And something tells me that’s another future law-suit, right there…)

Up until that point, however, the hospital’s actual response was (presumably) the same it resorts to in ALL such cases… that is, to simply ‘sit back and wait’, until one of two things inevitably occurs.

Either the foetus ‘dies a natural death’… in which case, the problem would have simply resolved itself (though it could take a good few weeks to happen: throughout which time, the risk to the mother’s health would be constantly increasing)….

…or else, the mother really DOES develop a potentially-fatal infection (as she lies there, for weeks and weeks, waiting for her unborn child’s heartbeat to finally fade)… whereupon, Hey Presto! Suddenly, the doctors spring into action… to save the mother’s life, from a threat that had actually been caused by their own refusal to intervene at any earlier stage.

It’s a bit like… ‘magic’, isn’t it? Almost as though St Thomas Aquinas himself descends from the Heavens above – at the precise instance when the bacterial infection takes root, please note – and proclaims: “It’s OK, you can go right ahead and abort that foetus now!  I have a special, magical ‘double-effect principle’, that will miraculously assuage all your previous conscience issues… just like THAT!’

In practice, however, the way it works is that… suddenly, the patient’s life would be in REAL danger (as opposed to being ‘placed at exponentially-growing risk’, like it was only the second before) and… that’s it. From that moment on, abortion is no longer considered such a big ‘No-No’, that Maltese doctors are even willing to endanger a woman’s life, to avoid having to perform one.

Miraculously, it now becomes precisely the sort of ‘simple, straightforward’ medical procedure that is routinely offered by every hospital in the civilised world… except Malta, of course.

Not only that, but – one helluvan irony coming right up, folks! - it is also the exact same procedure that Ms Prudente herself had originally gone to Mater Dai to receive, all those weeks earlier! You know: the termination of an unviable (and highly risky) pregnancy… as any patient would after all rightly expect, from any modern hospital, anywhere in Europe (preferably, without also being ‘held hostage’ for three whole weeks: to the point that she actually ended up fearing for her life…)

I mean, it really does boggle the mind, doesn’t it? Leaving aside the sheer paradox, of a country which so loudly proclaims itself to be ‘Pro-Life’… but which simultaneously goes so far out of its way, to actively endanger the life of a woman (and even then: for the sake of a foetus that had no realistic chance of survival anyway…)

… but there’s also the small matter of ‘multiple human rights violations’, across the full spectrum of the Universal Charter.

To be honest, I lost count of the number of times that Andrea Prudente’s rights were simply trampled out of existence, at every stage, throughout this entire episode. In fact, it happened so often, you could almost say they were… well, ‘aborted’.

To begin with, there is ‘wilful denial of vital medical treatment’; then, there’s ‘withholding access to precise information regarding her own medical condition’. On top of that, Ms Prudente was also ‘declared medically unfit to travel’… which not only limited her ‘freedom of movement’ to the confines of her hospital bed; but also seriously impacted her ability to ‘make her own choices, on a matter that affected her own health’.

Naturally, I’ll leave it to lawyers to translate all that, into how it might end up looking on a bill of indictment before the European Court of Human Rights. But something tells me the Maltese State should be bracing itself for a barrage of law-suits, in the near future. And that is arguably the least of the government’s concerns, right now.

Just look, for instance, at how this unsightly fiasco was covered in the international press this week. It can be summed up in just one word – again, an Andrea Prudente quote – from a single Euronews headline:


Honestly, though. How would a career diplomat – or the Foreign Minister, for that matter – translate that, I wonder, in terms of the ‘damage done to Malta’s international reputation’?

But never mind, because: while the immediate crisis now appears to be over… the underlying cause remains very emphatically unresolved. And in all fairness to the individual doctors involved; and to the entire medical profession, as a whole…

… it has nothing (or very little, anyway) to do with the ‘medical establishment at Mater Dei hospital’ at all. This much even emerges from a statement issued by the Malta College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists: in particular, its claim that doctors always “strive to give the best management possible, whilst working WITHIN THE LEGAL FRAMEWORK OF OUR COUNTRY.” [My emphasis].

Ah, yes. The infamous Article 243 of the Maltese Criminal Code, which states that: “Any physician, surgeon, obstetrician, or apothecary, who shall have knowingly prescribed or administered the means whereby the miscarriage is procured, shall, on conviction, be liable to imprisonment for a term from eighteen months to four years, and to perpetual interdiction from the exercise of his profession”.

In other words, the same old blanket abortion ban that: a) offers no form of written exception, of any kind whatsoever: not even to save the mother’s life (that ‘double-effect principle’ I mentioned earlier is a theological - NOT a legal – concept), and; b) offers no form of protection whatsoever to the medical profession: even in cases where an abortion is deemed necessary, for rather obvious, self-evident health reasons.

And oh look: it just happens to be the same law that groups such as ‘Doctors For Choice’ have been campaigning to amend for the last couple of years… specifically, with a view to ironing out all the same ‘grey areas’, that give rise to such cases in the first place.

And what answer have they always been given, from the only people who can actually change update our archaic laws to the 21st century, once and for all (i.e., our Members of Parliament)?

‘Sorry, but no. We will continue to needlessly endanger women’s lives, because…”

Yeah, you guessed it: “…because we’re ‘Pro-Life’…”