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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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The U.S. National Hurricane Center says Ian has rapidly intensified off Florida, gaining top winds of 155 mph, just shy of the most 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 area between Naples and Sarasota is at highest risk. Florida's governor says it's too late to flee that area, so people should "hunker down." At least 2.5 million people were ordered to evacuate. Florida has staged 30,000 linemen, urban search and rescue teams and 7,000 National Guard troops ready to help once the weather clears.

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Activists say Iran's current wave of protests are different from previous unrest. Unleashing their anger at the compulsory veil for women, protesters are targeting something central to the identity of Iran's Islamic cleric-led rule. The protests are drawing from a long history of resistance among Iranian women. During the 1979 revolution, the hijab was a sign of breaking with the secular monarchy. But when the new Islamic Republic then made wearing it mandatory, thousands of women marched in protests. Woman have been challenging the rule ever since. The death of a woman arrested for wearing too loose a headscarf has sparked an eruption of anger.

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The European Union's top diplomat says the bloc suspects that damage to two underwater natural gas pipelines was sabotage and is warning of retaliation for any attack on Europe’s energy networks. Energy companies are beefing up security. Josep Borell said Wednesday that “all available information indicates those leaks are the result of a deliberate act,” He added that any deliberate disruption of European energy infrastructure "is utterly unacceptable and will be met with a robust and united response.” Seismologists say that explosions rattled the Baltic Sea before unusual leaks were discovered on two underwater natural gas pipelines running from Russia to Germany. The Nord Stream 1 and 2 pipelines are leaking, but are not currently delivering fuel to Europe.

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Russia is poised to formally annex areas of Ukraine where it has military control after Kremlin-orchestrated referendums there reportedly endorsed living under Moscow’s rule. But the ballots were widely discredited and earned the Kremlin no relief Wednesday from international pressure over its war in Ukraine. Moscow-installed administrations of four occupied regions of southern and eastern Ukraine said their residents voted to join Russia in five days of balloting. Western countries, however, dismissed the ballots as a meaningless pretense staged by Moscow in an attempt to legitimize its invasion of Ukraine. They characterized the votes  as a land grab by an increasingly cornered Russian leadership  following a string of embarrassing military losses in Ukraine.