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State AP Stories

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The head of a national group working to elect women who support abortion rights is backing efforts in North Carolina. EMILY’s List President Laphonza Butler spoke at a Raleigh news conference on Tuesday with Gov. Roy Cooper and state legislative candidates. She also planned to visit college campuses with Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Cheri Beasley. An arm of EMILY's List already spent $2.7 million on pro-Beasley ads. Butler says General Assembly races will determine whether abortion restrictions that Republicans are likely to seek can be vetoed by Cooper. Republicans could earn veto-proof majorities if they win two more Senate seats and three more House seats.

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Leaders of College Park Baptist Church in Greensboro, North Carolina, thought it was odd when the Southern Baptist Convention recently sent queries about the congregation's LGBTQ-affirming ministry. The church itself had voted to leave the conservative denomination 23 years ago. But it was still on the SBC rolls until last week. That's when the convention's Executive Committee voted to cut ties because of the congregation's “affirmation ... of homosexual behavior.” The Rev. Michael Usey of College Park said the congregation was ousted for the right reason. Said Usey, “It’s good when people reject you because they understand clearly who you are."

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Experts say the U.S. Supreme Court’s June ruling overturning Roe v. Wade appears to be sending more teens to their doctors in search of birth control, including long-acting reversible forms like intrauterine devices and implants. Waits for appointments are growing in some areas, Planned Parenthood is getting a flood of questions and doctors report demand even among teens who aren’t sexually active. Some patients are especially fearful because some of the new abortion laws don’t include exceptions for sexual assault. Dr. Peggy Stager said dedicated spots for insertion of the Nexplanon implant are consistently filled at her Ohio practice and requests for contraceptive refills have increased 30% to 40% since the Court's June ruling.

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Four people have pleaded guilty to misdemeanors for their roles in absentee ballot fraud in rural North Carolina during the 2016 and 2018 elections. These convictions Monday stemmed from an investigation that in part resulted in a do-over congressional election. The defendants were associated with Leslie McCrae Dowless, a political operative in Bladen County whom authorities called the ringleader of the ballot scheme. Dowless died this year before his case went to trial. The State Board of Elections has ordered a new election for the 2018 9th Congressional District because of all the fraud allegations. Cases against six other defendants are pending.

National & World AP Stories

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Russia is poised to formally annex parts of Ukraine after occupied areas held a Kremlin-orchestrated “referendum” — denounced as illegal and rigged by Kyiv and the West  — to live under Moscow’s rule. Armed troops had gone door-to-door with election officials to collect ballots in five days of voting. The results were widely ridiculed as implausible and characterized as a land grab by an increasingly cornered Russian leadership following embarrassing military losses in Ukraine. Russia is calling up 300,000 reservists to fight in the war and warned it could resort to nuclear weapons. The European Commission president urged the European Union’s 27 member countries to slap more sanctions on Russian officials and trade over the “sham referendums.”

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Flag football is rising in popularity, especially among girls. Interest has picked up in youth leagues and also following a push by NFL teams to help start teams for high schoolers. Now, officials in the southern section of the California Interscholastic Federation are expected to vote on making flag football an official girls’ high school sport. State interscholastic sport officials could soon follow. Football enthusiasts say the move could lead more schools to start more teams and give girls more opportunities to play the sport. In Southern California, some high schoolers are gearing up for their second season in a pilot league started by the Los Angeles Chargers and Rams.

ROME (AP) — Italians marched through Rome, Milan and other cities Wednesday to protect access to abortion, which many fear will be under threat by a far-right party expected to form the next government after leading in parliamentary elections.

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The U.S. National Hurricane Center says Ian's most damaging winds have begun hitting Florida's southwest coast as the storm approaches landfall. The hurricane's center neared Florida on Wednesday after rapidly intensifying overnight, gaining top winds of 155 mph. That puts Ian just shy of devastating Category 5 hurricane status. Ian is pushing a storm surge that could cause catastrophic damage along the state’s heavily populated Gulf Coast. Forecasters say the Fort Myers region is at highest risk of a surge that could reach 18 feet. Florida's governor is urging residents in that area to "hunker down." At least 2.5 million people were ordered to evacuate.