U.S. woman fearing for health after Malta refuses abortion

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VALLETTA, June 22 (Reuters) - An American couple on Wednesday appealed to the Maltese authorities to let them leave Malta to have an abortion and avoid any risks to the mother after she suffered symptoms of a miscarriage.

Malta is the only country in the European Union which does not allow abortion under any circumstances.

Andrea Prudente and her partner Jay Weeldreyer, from Seattle, were on holiday on the small Mediterranean island when Prudente, 16 weeks pregnant, started bleeding.

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The couple requested for the pregnancy to be terminated due to the risks of maternal infection and possible death. But doctors will not terminate the pregnancy, Weeldreyer told the Times of Malta.

The couple have also asked to fly to Britain where the pregnancy can be ended, but doctors have refused to certify Andrea as fit for travel.

"We came to Malta on a babymoon. We certainly did not come for an abortion, but here we are talking about saving a woman’s life," Weeldreyer, 45, told the paper.

They have been waiting for almost a week since they were told that their baby would die. But medical staff at the state-run Mater Dei Hospital are refusing their request for termination because there is still a foetal heartbeat and the mother’s life is not deemed to be at imminent risk.

Maltese health authorities did not respond to a request for a comment.

"We are stuck ... we chose Malta because it was safe and had good health care, and now we are held hostage to this situation," Weeldreyer said.

Maltese NGO Doctors For Choice said it backed the couple's appeal, warning of the dangers of a repeat of the tragic case of Savita Halappanavar, who died in 2012 in Ireland of septicaemia following a miscarriage 17 weeks into her pregnancy.

"Infection can go through the ruptured membranes, into the uterus, then into the blood leading to death," the NGO said.

Opinion polls have shown a big majority of Maltese people to be against the introduction of abortion, and both of the island’s major political parties say they remain against its introduction.

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Reporting by Chris Scicluna; Editing by Alison Williams

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