A woman in Malta who had a potentially life-threatening pregnancy had her life put at risk because of Malta’s complete ban on abortion.
Break the Taboo Malta, a local online platform that shares anonymous stories of women who got abortions, described the hurdles Maria* faced in terminating her ectopic pregnancy despite it being unviable and life-threatening.
“My fertility and, indeed, my life, were needlessly put at risk because of unnecessary procedural delays all stemming from this umbrella ban on abortion,” she wrote.
A year and a half ago, Maria and her partner decided to use an intrauterine device (IUD) for contraception. It is a low maintenance means of preventing pregnancy, with an efficiency rate of 99%.
A few months after getting the implant, Maria began to experience breast tenderness and bleeding just after her period. She knew something wasn’t right.
“I took a pregnancy test, and we were both shocked to find it was positive,” Maria recalled.
After discussing their options, the couple decided to go through with it despite being unprepared.
“Deep down though, I felt that something was not right with the pregnancy and I was anxious to have a scan,” she continued.
Within a few days, the scan showed the pregnancy was ectopic, meaning the fertilised egg had planted itself in her fallopian tube.
The pregnancy was therefore unviable and, left untreated, could threaten her fertility and her life.
Her gynaecologist found she was a good candidate for treatment with a medicine called methotrexate, which would treat the ectopic pregnancy without the need for surgery, and therefore would save her fallopian tube.
Maria’s team of doctors were quick to prepare all the necessary paperwork for the methotrexate to be administered at Mater Dei Hospital.
However, because every form of abortion is illegal in Malta, there were several hurdles and procedural delays before accessing the drug.
“My partner and I were distraught but relieved that I would be spared an operation… but my gynaecologist warned me though that prescribing methotrexate for ectopic pregnancies in Malta was not a simple process,” Maria wrote.
The case was brought to a medical board to be discussed at length and then signed off by a number of people in hospital before it could be dispensed. The process took around a week.
“In the meantime, the embryo was growing and so with every hour that passed my fallopian tube was more at risk of scarring and perforating (bursting), and the treatment itself was becoming less likely to work,” Maria lamented.
The treatment was eventually made available, but because of the delay and the time-sensitivity, she had to take another dose which proved to be effective.
Maria, while grateful to the doctors who helped, has been left traumatised by the stringent access to the drug.
“It was a traumatic experience made even more traumatic by the whole methotrexate issue. I’m thankfully on the road to recovery now but still incredulous at the status quo.”
Malta’s pro-choice doctors warned that Maria’s story wasn’t uncommon for the islands and that the ban had negative impacts on their ability to help patients.
“An ectopic pregnancy needs to be treated urgently. The unnecessary delay could have lead to a rupture and cost the woman her life. Even if she survives an ectopic rupture, there are likely to be long term consequences on her health and fertility.”
“This is a consequence of our “pro-life” abortion ban,” the group said.
*Names have been changed for the sake of anonymity.
Do you think Malta needs to revisit its abortion laws for unviable pregnancies?