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Death of pregnant woman ignites debate about abortion ban in Poland

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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.

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.

“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.

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.

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.

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)

Health

Courts block two Biden administration COVID vaccine mandates

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The Biden administration was blocked on Tuesday from enforcing two mandates requiring millions of American workers to get vaccinated against COVID-19, a key part of its strategy for controlling the spread of the coronavirus.

U.S. District Judge Terry Doughty in Monroe, Louisiana, temporarily blocked the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) from enforcing its vaccine mandate for healthcare workers until the court can resolve legal challenges.

Doughty’s ruling applied nationwide, except in 10 states where the CMS was already prevented from enforcing the rule due to a prior order from a federal judge in St. Louis.

Doughty said the CMS lacked the authority to issue a vaccine mandate that would require more than 2 million unvaccinated healthcare workers to get a coronavirus shot.

“There is no question that mandating a vaccine to 10.3 million healthcare workers is something that should be done by Congress, not a government agency,” wrote Doughty.

Separately, U.S. District Judge Gregory Van Tatenhove in Frankfort, Kentucky, blocked the administration from enforcing a regulation that new government contracts must include clauses requiring that contractors’ employees get vaccinated.

The contractor ruling applied in the three states that had filed the lawsuit, Kentucky, Ohio and Tennessee, one of at least 13 legal challenges nationwide against the regulation. It appears to be the first ruling against the contractor vaccine mandate.

The White House declined to comment.

The legal setbacks for President Joe Biden’s vaccine policy come as concerns that the Omicron coronavirus variant could trigger a new wave of infections and curtail travel and economic activity across the globe.

Biden unveiled regulations in September to increase the U.S. adult vaccination rate beyond the current 71% as a way of fighting the pandemic, which has killed more than 750,000 Americans and weighed on the economy.

Republican state attorneys general, conservative groups and trade organizations have sued to stop the regulations.

Tuesday’s rulings add to a string of court losses for the Biden administration over its COVID-19 policies.

The most sweeping regulation, a workplace vaccine-or-testing mandate for businesses with at least 100 employees, was temporarily blocked by a federal appeals court in early November.

In August, the U.S. Supreme Court ended the administration’s pandemic-related federal moratorium on residential evictions.

(Reporting by Tom Hals in Wilmington, Delaware; Additional reporting by Nandita Bose in Washington; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Peter Cooney)

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Putin hits back as NATO warns Moscow against attacking Ukraine

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Russia would pay a high price for any new military aggression against Ukraine, NATO and the United States warned on Tuesday as the Western military alliance met to discuss Moscow’s possible motives for massing troops near the Ukrainian border.

President Vladimir Putin countered that Russia would be forced to act if U.S.-led NATO placed missiles in Ukraine that could strike Moscow within minutes.

Ukraine, a former Soviet republic that now aspires to join the European Union and NATO, has become the main flashpoint between Russia and the West as relations have soured to their worst level in the three decades since the Cold War ended.

“There will be a high price to pay for Russia if they once again use force against the independence of the nation Ukraine,” NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg told reporters.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken echoed Stoltenberg, saying: “Any escalatory actions by Russia would be a great concern to the United States…, and any renewed aggression would trigger serious consequences.”

Tensions have been rising for weeks, with Russia, Ukraine and NATO all staging military exercises amid mutual recriminations over which side is the aggressor.

Putin went further than previously in spelling out Russia’s “red lines” on Ukraine, saying it would have to respond if NATO deployed advanced missile systems on its neighbour’s soil.

“If some kind of strike systems appear on the territory of Ukraine, the flight time to Moscow will be 7-10 minutes, and five minutes in the case of a hypersonic weapon being deployed. Just imagine,” the Kremlin leader said.

“What are we to do in such a scenario? We will have to then create something similar in relation to those who threaten us in that way. And we can do that now,” he said, pointing to Russia’s recent testing of a hypersonic weapon he said could fly at nine times the speed of sound.

EU and other Western leaders are involved in a geopolitical tug-of-war with Russia for influence in Ukraine and two other ex-Soviet republics, Moldova and Georgia, through trade, cooperation and protection arrangements.

U.S. BRIEFING

NATO foreign ministers began two days of talks in the Latvian capital Riga to debate what they say is the growing Russian threat, with Blinken due to brief his 29 alliance counterparts on Washington’s intelligence assessment.

Blinken, speaking at a news conference with his Latvian counterpart, said he will have more to say on Wednesday on how to respond to Russia after holding talks with NATO allies.

“We will be consulting closely with…allies and partners in the days ahead…about whether there are other steps that we should take as an alliance to strengthen our defences, strengthen our resilience, strengthen our capacity,” he said.

Ukraine Prime Minister Denys Shmygal accused Russia https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/exclusive-ukraine-pm-says-russia-absolutely-behind-coup-attempt-2021-11-30 of trying to topple the elected government in Kyiv, which the Kremlin denies, after Ukraine’s president last week unveiled what he said was a coup attempt.

Shmygal also said Ukraine would seek more weapons from the United States – precisely the course of action that Putin has warned against.

The Kremlin annexed the Black Sea peninsula of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014 and then backed rebels fighting government troops in the east of the country. That conflict has killed 14,000 people, according to Kyiv, and is still simmering.

In May, Russian troops on Ukraine’s borders numbered 100,000, the most since its Crimea takeover, Western officials say. Ukraine says there are more than 90,000 there now.

Moscow has dismissed as inflammatory Ukrainian suggestions that it is preparing for an attack, said it does not threaten anyone and defended its right to deploy troops on its own territory as it wishes.

Britain and Germany echoed the NATO warnings.

“We will stand with our fellow democracies against Russia’s malign activity,” said British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss.

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said: “NATO’s support for Ukraine is unbroken…Russia would have to pay a high price for any sort of aggression.”

 

(Additional reporting by John Chalmers in Brussels; writing by Gabriela Baczynska, Robin Emmott and Mark Trevelyan; editing by Mark Heinrich)

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Jazz singer Josephine Baker first Black woman honoured at France’s Pantheon

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Josephine Baker, the famed French American singer and dancer, was inducted on Tuesday into the Pantheon mausoleum in Paris – one of France’s highest honours – at a ceremony attended by French President Emmanuel Macron.

Baker, who also served in the French Resistance during World War Two and was a prominent civic rights activist after the war, is the first Black woman and sixth woman to enter the Pantheon, a Paris landmark dominating the city’s Latin Quarter.

She was “a Black person who stood up for Black people, but foremost, she was a woman who defended humankind,” Macron said during a speech.

He spoke shortly after Baker’s most famous song, “J’ai deux amours, mon pays et Paris” (“I have two loves, my country and Paris”), was played at the ceremony.

Baker was born in St. Louis, Missouri, in 1906 but went on to find much of her fame after arriving in Paris in the 1920s, as many Black Americans stayed on in the French capital after World War One and brought over with them American jazz culture.

Baker, who became a French citizen in 1937, died in 1975 and is buried in Monaco.

In accordance with her family’s wishes, Baker’s remains have not been moved to the Pantheon. To represent her presence there, a symbolic coffin was carried into the mausoleum by six pallbearers containing handfuls of earth from four locations: St. Louis, Paris, Monaco and Milandes, in the Dordogne department of France, where Baker owned a castle.

Baker’s empty coffin will lie alongside other French national icons in the mausoleum such as authors Emile Zola and Victor Hugo, the philosopher Voltaire and politician Simone Veil.

 

(Reporting by Benoit Van Overstraeten; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)

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