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Death of pregnant woman ignites debate about abortion ban in Poland

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November 5, 2021

By Anna Wlodarczak-Semczuk and Kacper Pempel

WARSAW (Reuters) – The death of a pregnant Polish woman has reignited debate over abortion in one of Europe’s most devoutly Catholic countries, with activists saying she could still be alive if it were not for a near total ban on terminating pregnancies.

Tens of thousands of Poles took to the streets to protest in January this year when a Constitutional Tribunal ruling from October 2020 that terminating pregnancies with foetal defects was unconstitutional came into effect, eliminating the most frequently used case for legal abortion.

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Activists say Izabela, a 30-year-old woman in the 22nd week of pregnancy who her family said died of septic shock after doctors waited for her unborn baby’s heart to stop beating, is the first woman to die as a result of the ruling.

The government says the ruling was not to blame for her death, rather an error by doctors.

Izabela went to hospital in September after her waters broke, her family said. Scans had previously shown numerous defects in the foetus.

“The baby weighs 485 grams. For now, thanks to the abortion law, I have to lie down. And there is nothing they can do. They’ll wait until it dies or something begins, and if not, I can expect sepsis,” Izabela said in a text message to her mother, private broadcaster TVN24 reported.

When a scan showed the foetus was dead, doctors at the hospital in Pszczyna, southern Poland, decided to perform a Caesarean. The family’s lawyer, Jolanta Budzowska, said Izabela’s heart stopped on the way to the operating theatre and she died despite efforts to resuscitate her.

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“I couldn’t believe it, I thought it wasn’t true,” Izabela’s mother Barbara told TVN24. “How could such a thing happen to her in the hospital? After all, she went there for help.”

Budzowska has started legal action over the treatment Izabela received, accusing doctors of malpractice, but she also called the death “a consequence of the verdict”.

In a statement on its website, the Pszczyna County Hospital said it shared the pain of all those affected by Izabela’s death, especially her family.

“It should … be emphasised that all medical decisions were made taking into account the legal provisions and standards of conduct in force in Poland,” the hospital said.

On Friday, the hospital said it had suspended two doctors who were on duty at the time of the death.

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The Supreme Medical Chamber, which represents Polish doctors, said it was not immediately able to comment.

NOT ONE MORE

When the case came to public attention as a result of a tweet from Budzowska, the hashtag #anijednejwiecej or ‘not one more’ spread across social media and was taken up by protesters demanding a change to the law.

However, Poland’s ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party rejects claims that the Constitutional Tribunal ruling was to blame for Izabela’s death, attributing it to a mistake by doctors.

“When it comes to the life and health of the mother … if it is in danger, then terminating the pregnancy is possible and the ruling does not change anything,” Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said on Friday.

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PiS lawmaker Bartlomiej Wroblewski told Reuters that the case should not be “instrumentalised and used to limit the right to life, to kill all sick or disabled children”.

But activists say the ruling has made doctors scared to terminate pregnancies even when the mother’s life is at risk.

“Izabela’s case clearly shows that the ruling of the Constitutional Tribunal has had a chilling effect on doctors,” Urszula Grycuk of the Federation for Women and Family Planning told Reuters.

“Even a condition that should not be questioned – the life and health of the mother – is not always recognised by doctors because they are afraid.”

In Ireland, the death of 31-year-old Savita Halappanavar in 2012 after she was refused a termination provoked a national outpouring of grief credited by many as a catalyst for the liberalisation of abortion laws.

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Budzowska told Reuters that a debate similar to the one that took place in Ireland was underway in Poland.

“Both Izabela’s family and I personally hope that this case … will lead to a change in the law in Poland,” she said.

Poland’s president proposed changing the law last year to make abortions possible in cases where the foetus was not viable. The Law and Justice dominated parliament has yet to debate the bill.

(Reporting by Anna Wlodarczak-Semczuk and Kacper Pempel; Additional reporting by Anna Koper; Writing by Alan Charlish; Editing by Giles Elgood)

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Taiwan, Europe must defend democracy together, president says

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November 29, 2021

TAIPEI (Reuters) – Taiwan and Europe must work together to defend against authoritarianism and disinformation, President Tsai Ing-wen told visiting lawmakers from the Baltic states of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia on Monday.

Lithuania has faced sustained pressure from China, which claims Taiwan as its own territory, since allowing the opening of a de facto Taiwanese embassy in its capital.

Beijing has ramped up military and diplomatic pressure on Taipei to accept Chinese sovereignty claims and to limit its international participation, though Tsai says Taiwan will not bow to threats and will defend its freedom and democracy.

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Tsai told the lawmakers at the Presidential Office that Taiwan and the Baltic nations – once part of the Soviet Union – share similar experiences of breaking free from authoritarian rule and of fighting for freedom.

“The democracy we enjoy today was hard earned. This is something we all understand most profoundly,” she said.

“Now the world faces challenges posed by the expansion of authoritarianism and threat of disinformation. Taiwan is more than willing to share its experience at combating disinformation with its European friends. We must safeguard our shared values to ensure our free and democratic way of life.”

Matas Maldeikis, leader of the Lithuanian parliament’s Taiwan Friendship Group, told Tsai in response their group was in Taipei to express their solidarity with the island.

“Lithuanian government policy towards Taiwan has wide support in our society. Preserving freedom and the rules-based international order is in the vital interests for both Taiwan and Lithuania,” he said.

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There is much opportunity for economic and cultural cooperation, added Maldeikis, whose trip has been condemned by China.

No European Union member state has official ties with Taiwan.

The United States has strongly backed its NATO ally Lithuania in its spat with China.

Lithuania faces problems too with pressure from Russia and Belarus, with migrants on its border with Belarus.

(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; editing by Richard Pullin)

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Australia’s reopening plans in doubt after Omicron cases

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November 29, 2021

By Renju Jose

SYDNEY (Reuters) – Australia will review its plans to reopen borders to skilled migrants and students from Dec. 1, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Monday, after the country reported its first cases of the Omicron coronavirus variant.

Two people who arrived in Sydney from southern Africa tested positive on Sunday for the newly identified variant as officials ordered 14-day quarantine for citizens returning from nine African countries.

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Morrison said “it is a bit too early” to reinstate two-week mandatory hotel quarantine for foreign travellers, urging people to remain calm as data had not yet fully determined the severity, transmissibility and vaccine resistance of the Omicron strain.

“So we just take this one step at a time, get the best information, make calm, sensible decisions,” Morrison told Nine News.

Omicron, dubbed a “variant of concern” by the World Health Organization, is potentially more contagious than previous variants. But experts do not know yet if it will cause more or less severe COVID-19 compared to other strains.

Morrison said the national security committee will meet later on Monday to assess the border reopening relaxations due from Wednesday. A meeting of leaders of all states and territories will be held by Tuesday, he said.

Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt said he had asked the country’s immunisation advisory group to review the time frame for COVID-19 booster shots. About 87% of Australia’s population above 16 years of age have been fully vaccinated, above the rates seen in the United States, Britain and many countries in Western Europe.

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Health officials in New South Wales said three people who arrived on Sunday from southern Africa had tested positive for COVID-19 and that genomic sequencing was underway to check if they were infected with the Omicron strain.

The new variant has emerged as Sydney and Melbourne, Australia’s largest cities, had begun to allow vaccinated citizens entry from overseas without quarantine from Nov. 1, having shut their borders for more than 18 months.

Both cities have tightened their travel rules with all international travellers ordered to quarantine for 72 hours. Other states have not opened their borders to foreign travellers yet due to varying vaccination rates.

Australia has so far recorded about 209,000 coronavirus cases and 1,997 deaths since the pandemic began.

(Reporting by Renju Jose; Editing by David Gregorio and Stephen Coates)

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Earthquake hits remote northern Peru, 75 homes destroyed, no deaths reported

Published

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November 29, 2021

By Marco Aquino

(Reuters) – A 7.5 magnitude earthquake shook the remote Amazon region of northern Peru on Sunday and was felt as far as Lima in the center of the country, destroying 75 homes but with no deaths reported.

The seismological center of the Geophysical Institute of Peru (IGP) said the earthquake had a depth of 131 kilometers (81 miles) and that the epicenter was 98 kilometers from the town of Santa Maria de Nieva in the province of Condorcanqui.

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The quake was felt throughout central and northern Peru. Some residents left their homes as a precaution, according to local radio and television reports.

No damage was reported to the 1,100-kilometer oil pipeline of state-owned Petroperu that crosses the Peruvian Amazon region to the Pacific coast in the north.

The National Institute of Civil Defense (Indeci) said in a statement that 220 homes were affected, 81 uninhabitable and 75 destroyed. Seven places of religious worship and two shopping centers were among damaged facilities, Indeci said, adding that four residents were injured.

President Pedro Castillo said through Twitter that he ordered the immediate deployment of support personnel and took a trip in a military plane to the area.

“We will support those affected and address material damage,” he said.

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Walter Culqui, mayor of the town of Jalca Grande in Chachapoyas province, said several houses had been damaged, leaving three non-serious injuries. Part of the church tower in the area collapsed, he said.

Through social networks, electricity cuts were reported in several locations in jungle areas. Local TV images showed stretches of roads blocked by huge rocks and dirt that had been knocked loose.

The U.S. warning system said there was no tsunami warning after the earthquake.

(Reporting by Marco Aquino in Lima and Aakriti Bhalla in Bengaluru, writing by Hugh Bronstein, Editing by Catherine Evans and Mark Porter)

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