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With pills and burner phones, Mexican abortion activists prepare for Roe v. Wade overturn

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© Reuters. Pills of Misoprostol, used to terminate early pregnancies, are pictured in this illustration taken June 20, 2022. REUTERS/Edgard Garrido/Illustration

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By Daina Beth Solomon

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – Abril, a 22-year-old college student, has a plan if Roe v. Wade is overturned: use encrypted messages, burner phones and international numbers to ensure women still have the choice to terminate a pregnancy.

And maybe save for a bail fund, she joked.

Abril, who declined to give her full name, is originally from Reynosa, a city on Mexico’s northern border. She now lives in Texas, where she co-founded a group to help women in the United States access abortions, including through pills, which are easier to obtain south of the border.

In the past two years the group has received requests from over 2,000 women, many from Texas, seeking help with abortions, she said.

They plan to keep helping even if restrictions are tightened or abortion outright banned after the U.S. Supreme Court decides if it will overturn the landmark 1973 opinion that guarantees abortion access.

Texas already enforces significant restrictions. The state only allows abortions past six weeks of pregnancy if a mother’s life is in danger or her health severely compromised, and it has banned the use of medication abortions entirely after seven weeks.

Mifepristone, which blocks the pregnancy-sustaining hormone progesterone, and misoprostol are the two drugs commonly used for abortions. Mifepristone is available by prescription in Mexico, while misoprostol, typically used for ulcers, can be bought cheaply over the counter. The most effective method is for the two to be taken together, but misoprostol alone is also often used.

So activists from Mexico meet Abril and her group at the border to hand them over – in one case, disguised in vitamin bottles. Abril has also stocked up on the pills in Reynosa and walked across the border back into the United States. She said she had ‘nothing to declare’ and hoped for the best.

She is preparing for things to get tougher if Roe v. Wade is overturned – but she won’t give up on the women she helps.

“I’m already offering them help and support under the table and I’ll keep offering them that help and support,” Abril said.

“It might just become harder to reach out to them.”

With a Texas ‘trigger’ law slated to take effect in 30 days if Roe v. Wade is overturned that would make it a felony to provide an abortion, Abril’s group is aware they will need to be careful. They are setting up some Mexican phone numbers and plan to get Canadian lines, too, along with short-term ‘burner phones’ that are harder to trace. They are also using encrypted messages to organize and share abortion advice.

Access to doctor-prescribed abortion medications expanded during the COVID-19 pandemic after U.S. regulators allowed women to get the pills by mail following online appointments.

Telemedicine now accounts for more than half of abortions in the country, according to abortion rights advocacy group Guttmacher Institute.

The growing use of pills has worried anti-abortion advocates, and at least 16 state legislatures this year have introduced bills that would restrict administration of abortion pills or ban their use altogether, according to the institute.

Activists like Abril are looking for more ways to obtain pills abroad and deliver them through clandestine networks. U.S. authorities have acknowledged they have no effective way of policing orders from foreign doctors and pharmacies.

Abril thinks it is becoming riskier to repeatedly smuggle the pills into the United States herself, but said other activists may take turns going back and forth across the border.

The medicines can also be mailed from Mexico or the U.S. border area at low risk. Recently, an anonymous donor in Mexico reached out to Abril, saying she wanted to send mifepristone. The package arrived with no return address; the pills wrapped in small boxes as if pieces of jewelry.

Veronica Cruz, who runs abortion rights organization Las Libres in the central Mexican state of Guanajuato, which offers step-by-step assistance to women taking the pills, said her group receives donated medication and sends it to women in the United States.

From February to April this year, Las Libres sent 1,000 packets to the United States. Getting hold of more would be easy in Mexico, Cruz said.

“We’re getting ready if more women need it,” she said, adding that an increasing number of U.S. residents were keen to help. “People say I want to be the one who distributes the medication in the United States,” Cruz said.

Coronavirus

China slashes COVID quarantine time for international travellers

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© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: People line up at a nucleic acid testing station, following the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Beijing, China, June 16, 2022. REUTERS/Thomas Peter/File Photo

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BEIJING/SHANGHAI (Reuters) – China on Tuesday slashed the quarantine time for inbound travellers by half in a major easing of one of the world’s strictest COVID-19 curbs, which have deterred travel in and out of the country since 2020.

Quarantine at centralised facilities has been cut to seven days from 14, and subsequent at-home health monitoring has been reduced to three days from seven, the National Health Commission said.

The latest guidelines from the health authority also eased quarantine requirements for close contacts of people who have tested positive for the new coronavirus.

China has cautiously eased its COVID curbs on cross-border travellers in recent months, with health officials saying the shorter incubation period of the Omicron variant allows for an adjustment of quarantine periods.

The Chinese capital Beijing in recent months has already reduced the quarantine period at centralised facilities to 10 days from 14.

China, last month, also removed some COVID-19 test requirements for people flying in from countries such as the United States.

“We believe that today’s announcement will be welcomed by the American business community,” the American Chamber of Commerce in Shanghai said on its official WeChat account.

The quarantine adjustment will make it easier for companies to bring staff to China, and for Chinese companies and their executives to visit the United States, AmCham said.

Stock markets rose in Hong Kong and the mainland, with the Hang Seng Index reversing losses and ticking up roughly 0.4% and the CSI300 Index gaining 0.7%.

Shares in mainland tourism companies jumped more than 5%.

China’s aviation regulator said this month it had been in touch with some countries to steadily increase the number of flights in the second half of 2022.

IN THE CLEAR

Beijing and Shanghai reported on Tuesday no new local COVID infections, the first time both cities were in the clear simultaneously since late February, after months of fighting their worst-ever outbreaks.

The milestone for the two cities, achieved on Monday, came after their daily caseloads dropped to single digits over the past week, allowing Shanghai to gradually resume eating in at restaurants and Beijing to reopen some leisure venues including the Universal Beijing Resort.

Shanghai Communist Party chief Li Qiang declared on Saturday that authorities had “won the war to defend Shanghai” against COVID-19.

The Walt Disney (NYSE:DIS) Co’s Shanghai Disney Resort said on Tuesday that it would reopen the Disneyland theme park on June 30; it had been shut for more than three months.

Authorities, however, were adamant the government’s so-called dynamic zero COVID policy, which aims at blocking flare-ups from spreading as they crop up, remains in place.

Beijing would “fight against any new outbreaks at the outset and with speed and resolutely break their transmission channel”, Cai Qi, the city’s top Communist Party chief, was quoted as saying in a report by the party-backed Beijing Daily.

Earlier on Monday, the Beijing Daily apparently misquoted Cai as saying the city would maintain its COVID control effort for “the next five years”.

The newspaper afterwards removed the reference and its chief, Zhao Jingyun, said it was an error but that did not prevent some suspicion among the public.

“Surely it wasn’t a mistake! It’s meant to gauge public opinion!” said a user of the Weibo (NASDAQ:WB) social media platform.

Another Weibo user said even if it was a mistake, “at least the higher-ups are now aware of how helpless we all feel and how we detest the current counter-epidemic policies”.

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Coronavirus

Beijing, Shanghai both free of new local COVID cases for first time in months

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© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: People line up at a nucleic acid testing station, following the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Beijing, China, June 16, 2022. REUTERS/Thomas Peter/File Photo

BEIJING/SHANGHAI (Reuters) – China’s capital, Beijing, and the financial hub of Shanghai reported on Tuesday no new local COVID infections, the first time both cities were in the clear at the same time since late February, after months of fighting their worst-ever outbreaks.

The milestone for the two cities, achieved on Monday, came after their daily caseloads dropped to single digits over the past week, allowing Shanghai to gradually resume eating in at restaurants and Beijing to reopen some leisure venues including the Universal Beijing Resort.

Shanghai Communist Party chief Li Qiang declared on Saturday that authorities had “won the war to defend Shanghai” against COVID-19, following a crushing two-month citywide lockdown that was finally lifted in early June.

Authorities, however, remained wary and were adamant that the government’s so-called dynamic zero COVID policy, which aims at blocking flare-ups from spreading as they crop up, remains in place.

Beijing would “fight against any new outbreaks at the outset and with speed and resolutely break their transmission channel”, Cai Qi, the city’s top Communist Party chief, was quoted as saying in a report by the party-backed Beijing Daily.

The city would build “a solid virus barrier”, Cai was quoted as saying on Monday.

Earlier on Monday, the Beijing Daily apparently misquoted Cai as saying the city would maintain its COVID control effort for “the next five years”.

The newspaper afterwards removed the reference and its chief, Zhao Jingyun, said it was an error but that did not prevent some suspicion among the public.

“Surely it wasn’t a mistake! It’s meant to gauge public opinion!” said a user of the Weibo (NASDAQ:WB) social media platform.

Another Weibo user said even if it was a mistake, “at least the higher-ups are now aware of how helpless we all feel and how we detest the current counter-epidemic policies”.

Despite easing COVID restrictions in Beijing and Shanghai, their combined 47 million residents have been told to go through COVID testing every few days, to maintain access to public spaces and transport.

Elsewhere in mainland China, a total of 22 domestically transmitted infections were reported for June 27, including five in the southern technology hub Shenzhen.

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Coronavirus

U.S. appeals court vacates federal vaccine mandate pending additional hearing

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© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: A resident over 50 years old and immunocompromised receives a second booster shot of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine in Waterford, Michigan, U.S., April 8, 2022. REUTERS/Emily Elconin

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A U.S. appeals court panel said on Monday it would convene a full panel to reconsider President Joe Biden’s executive order requiring civilian federal employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19, and set aside the order pending that hearing.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, which is based in New Orleans, had reinstated the vaccine order in April by a 2-1 vote after it was blocked by a district court judge in January. [L2N2W530Z]

The court said on Monday that it would reconsider the case en banc, which means it will be heard by a larger panel of judges. No date was given for the hearing. Pending that hearing, the court said it would vacate the April ruling, which means that Biden’s order cannot be enforced.

Biden said in September he would require about 3.5 million government workers to get vaccinated by Nov. 22, barring a religious or medical accommodation, or face discipline or firing. Despite the legal fight, more than 90% of federal workers were vaccinated by December, the White House said last year.

The president’s vaccine and mask mandates have faced stiff opposition, led by Republicans, which have turned public safety measures endorsed by disease experts into a political and legal battle in the United States.

The United States passed the milestone of 1 million dead from the coronavirus in May. More than 250 people still die of the disease daily, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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