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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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Germany’s Free Democrats back coalition agreement

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December 5, 2021

BERLIN (Reuters) – Members of Germany’s pro-business Free Democrats (FDP) voted on Sunday by a large majority to back a coalition agreement with the Social Democrats (SPD) and Greens, paving the way for the three-way alliance to form a new government next week.

The coalition, the first at federal level between the environmentalist Greens, the FDP and Olaf Scholz’s centre-left SPD, will end 16 years of conservative governments led by Chancellor Angela Merkel.

The SPD approved the agreement on Saturday and the Greens are due to announce the outcome of a member survey on the deal on Monday. The three parties hope the lower house of parliament, the Bundestag, will vote Scholz in as chancellor on Wednesday.

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The “traffic light” alliance, named after the parties’respective colours, will usher in a new era of relations with Europe, and plans to speed up digitalisation of the continent’sbiggest economy and put a focus on fighting climate change.

(Reporting by Alexander Ratz; Writing by Emma Thomasson; Editing by Alex Richardson)

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Gambian President Barrow on course for resounding election win

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December 5, 2021

By Bate Felix

BANJUL (Reuters) – Gambia’s incumbent president, Adama Barrow, was on course for a resounding election win on Sunday, partial results indicated, that could help to draw a line under recent political turmoil.

Saturday’s vote was the first in 27 years without disgraced former president Yahya Jammeh, who lives in exile in Equatorial Guinea after refusing to accept defeat to Barrow in 2016.

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Jammeh, whose 22-year rule over the tiny nation of 2.5 million people was characterised by killings and torture of political opponents, had tried to persuade supporters to vote for an opposition coalition in telephoned speeches that were relayed to campaign rallies.

But his lingering influence was not enough to dent Barrow’s showing. The president, who only needs to win more votes than the second-placed candidate, won 36 of the first 41 constituencies announced, taking 315,547 votes.

His nearest rival, political veteran Ousainou Darboe, had 133,177 votes, with four other candidates far behind.

Only 12 constituencies remained to be announced.

The election was seen as a test of Gambia’s democratic progress and its ability to leave the Jammeh era behind.

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Barrow’s first term was marked by the coronavirus pandemic, which damaged an economy that relies heavily on tourism, as well as exports of peanuts and fish.

(Writing by Edward McAllister; Editing by Frances Kerry)

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S.Africans protest against Shell oil exploration in pristine coastal area

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December 5, 2021

By Siyabonga Sishi

PORT EDWARD, South Africa (Reuters) – South Africans took to their beaches on Sunday to protest against plans by Royal Dutch Shell to do seimsic oil exploration they say will threaten marine wildlife such as whales, dolphins, seals and penguins on a pristine coastal stretch.

A South African court on Friday struck down https://www.reuters.com/business/energy/shell-wins-court-case-start-seismic-surveys-offshore-south-africa-2021-12-03 an application brought by environmentalists to stop the oil major exploring in the eastern seaboard’s Wild Coast, rejecting as unproven their argument that it would cause “irreparable harm” to the marine environment, especially migrating hump-back whales.

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The Wild Coast is home of some of the country’s most undisturbed wildlife refuges, and it’s stunning coastal wildernesses are also a major tourist draw.

At least 1,000 demonstrators gathered on a beach near Port Edward, a Reuters TV correspondent saw.

“It’s just absolutely horrendous that they are even considering this. Look around you?” said demonstrator Kas Wilson, indicating an unspoilt stretch of beach. “It’s unacceptable and … we will stop it.”

Shell officials were not immediately available for comment, but the company said on Friday that its planned exploration has regulatory approval, and it will significantly contribute to South Africa’s energy security if resources are found.

But local people fear the seismic blasting conducted over 6,000 square kilometres will kill or scare away the fish they depend on to live.

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“I don’t want them to operate here because if they do we won’t be able to catch fish,” said 62-year-old free dive fisherwoman Toloza Mzobe, after pulling a wild lobster from the ground. “What are we going to eat?”

Environmentalists are urging Shell and other oil companies to stop prospecting for oil, arguing that the world has no chance of reaching net zero carbon by 2050 if existing oil deposits are burned, let alone if new ones are found.

Earlier this year, a Dutch court ordered Shell to reduce its planet warming carbon emissions by 45% by 2030 from 2019 levels, a decision it plans to appeal.

South Africa’s environment ministry referred Reuters to a statement late last month that “the Minister responsible for environmental affairs is … not mandated to consider the application or to make a decision on the authorisation of the seismic survey.”

(Writing by Tim Cocks;Editing by Elaine Hardcastle)

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