Berliner Tageblatt - Malta to review application of abortion ban after US tourist case

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Malta to review application of abortion ban after US tourist case
Malta to review application of abortion ban after US tourist case / Photo: © Jay WEELDREYER/AFP/File

Malta to review application of abortion ban after US tourist case

Malta's health minister said Thursday he had ordered a review of how the country's abortion ban was applied, after the treatment of a pregnant American tourist sparked headlines worldwide.

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"I have asked our staff to see whether we have parts of our law which preclude our doctors from giving treatment where it is needed in any instance," Chris Fearne told reporters.

It was the first public comment by a Maltese government minister since the case of US tourist Andrea Prudente last week shone a spotlight on Malta's total ban on terminations.

She suffered a partial miscarriage while on holiday and the foetus was given no chance of survival. But because it still had a heartbeat, she was denied an abortion despite fears she could contract a life-threatening infection.

In the end, she and her partner flew to Spain where Prudente was given an abortion, but not before the case sparked headlines around the world and protests in Malta, the only EU nation with a total prohibition.

Her partner Jay Weeldreyer told AFP that doctors were "playing chicken" with her life.

"Certainly there shouldn't be any part of Maltese law which precludes or interferes with our doctors and professionals from saving lives," Fearne, who was formerly a surgeon, said when asked about the case.

"That is clear, and I have asked our technical and legal staff to see whether this is the case with Maltese law in its entirety."

Currently doctors who administer abortions can be jailed for up to four years and banned from practising medicine for life.

"I have assurances from the State Advocate (Malta's highest legal officer) that, in cases like this, they do not take any action against medical professionals giving treatment and doing their utmost to save lives," Fearne said.

He added: "This is not an isolated case... it has happened before and it will happen again."

However, there was no suggestion from his comments that the review would lead to changes in the law.

Abortion is a thorny issue in Catholic-majority Malta, and is rarely discussed among politicians.

Only one of Malta's 79 MPs -- Rosianne Cutajar, a backbench lawmaker with the governing Labour party -- has spoken out about the case, telling parliament this week that no woman should risk losing her life in Malta because of the abortion law.

More than 130 doctors in Malta filed a legal protest Monday against the abortion ban, warning it represented an obstacle to proper medical care.