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The experiences that led these U.S. abortion opponents to activism

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© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Beverly McMillan, a former Mississippi abortion provider who now opposes the procedure, prays outside the Jackson Women’s Health Organization, in Jackson, Mississippi, U.S., May 21, 2021. Picture taken May 21, 2021. REUTERS/Evelyn Hockstein/Fi

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By Sharon Bernstein, Gabriella Borter and Brad Brooks

(Reuters) – For a Mississippi doctor, it was a glimpse of a fetal arm. For a police officer, it was the treatment of anti-abortion protesters outside a clinic. A Catholic leader was galvanized by the civil rights movement.

These and other experiences shaped prominent abortion opponents in their decades-long effort to see the U.S. Supreme Court reverse the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that established the constitutional right to abortion.

That could come any day. As they await a Supreme Court decision in the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization case that might gut Roe’s protections, some leaders of the anti-abortion movement reflected on how they reached this point.

DR. BEVERLY MCMILLAN

Most Fridays, Dr. Beverly McMillan, 79, can be found praying outside Mississippi’s only abortion clinic.

Her quiet opposition is a far cry from the start of her obstetrics and gynecology career. In 1975, McMillan became the first doctor to provide abortions at Mississippi’s first free-standing abortion clinic.

She resigned abruptly three years later, she said, “struck with the humanity” of a pregnancy she aborted. In an interview, she recalled how she could make out the tiny arm muscle of a 12-week-old fetus, reminding her of her young son.

The Jackson, Mississippi, resident has dedicated much of the four decades since trying to sway public opinion against abortion.

About 60% of Americans say abortion should be legal in all or most cases. Even so, McMillan and fellow anti-abortion advocates have successfully pushed for legislation such as her state’s 15-week abortion ban, which spurred the legal battle that is expected to end with the Supreme Court overhauling federal abortion rights.

“Who would have thought that Mississippi’s 15-week limit on abortions would be at the Supreme Court level? I certainly didn’t,” McMillan said.

Now serving as vice president on the Pro-Life Mississippi board, McMillan said the organization’s leaders were dedicated to getting support for women struggling in pregnancy.

She hopes one day there will be a “personhood amendment” to the U.S. Constitution that says what to her has long been obvious: “Human life begins at conception and has the same inalienable rights that born people have.”

TONY PERKINS

Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, a Christian policy and lobbying group in Washington, says he felt called to the anti-abortion movement on a summer day in 1992.

He was off duty from his job as a reserve police officer in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and had joined members of his church to check out an Operation Rescue protest at a local abortion clinic. He was shocked by what he called police abuse of the hundreds of anti-abortion protesters gathered at the clinic.

He spoke out and was fired from the force, he said.

“I just saw this for the first time in a much different light,” said Perkins, an ordained Southern Baptist minister. “This really is a colossal battle between … good and evil.”

Upon entering politics and serving as a Louisiana state representative from 1996 to 2004, he pushed through legislation aimed at restricting abortion, including the first version of a state law regulating women’s health clinics. The U.S. Supreme Court struck the law down in 2020.

Perkins, 59, said abortion became the litmus test for evangelical Christians as their political force grew in the past three decades: If a politician opposed abortion, they likely agreed with evangelical voters’ other policy stances.

He credits the Roman Catholic Church with leading the way in the abortion fight but said evangelicals injected new energy into the movement from the 1980s onward by getting anti-abortion politicians elected to statehouses.

Those socially conservative lawmakers passed a raft of state-level restrictions on abortion.

“The momentum is building up toward this. It’s not by accident that the court has taken up this issue,” he said of the Dobbs case.

THERESA BRENNAN

In February 2020, Theresa Brennan left her job as a corporate lawyer to take the helm of the anti-abortion group her grandparents helped found in California in 1967.

The Right to Life League says it was the country’s first organization dedicated to opposing abortion. Brennan remembers how as a child she longed to join her grandparents and parents at the group’s annual fundraising gala.

Later as a young woman, she disagreed with their stance, feeling it wasn’t her place to tell others what to do with their bodies. It wasn’t until she had her own children that Brennan says she fully embraced her family’s anti-abortion beliefs and, later, their activism.

“I think being pregnant and realizing what that was really made me think twice,” said Brennan, 52.

Since becoming the group’s president, Brennan has put her legal background to work providing advice to the network of crisis pregnancy centers, anti-abortion medical clinics and maternity homes the organization represents.

As some of the pregnancy centers move toward becoming clinics that provide some medical guidance and services, Brennan helps them comply with state laws regulating such activity.

Her organization also lobbies against abortion rights bills and provides donations of diapers and other supplies to pregnancy centers and maternity homes.

“Let’s invest in families – in mothers, in children – rather than investing in abortion,” she said.

ARCHBISHOP JOSEPH NAUMANN

Under Archbishop Joseph Naumann’s direction, the Archdiocese of Kansas City has put $500,000 behind an August ballot measure asking Kansas voters to amend the state constitution to say it does not include a right to an abortion.

It’s the sort of state-level advocacy Naumann expects to remain engaged in should the Supreme Court overturn Roe v. Wade, continuing his decades of anti-abortion work.

“I’m encouraged that we’re at this point, but it’s certainly not the end,” he said. “If the court rules as anticipated, it will make this an issue in every state.”

Naumann, 73, was in the seminary in 1973 when the Roe decision legalized abortion in the United States. Like other devout Catholics, he opposed abortion, but at the time he was more focused on the civil rights movement.

He said he began to view abortion through the lens of civil rights in 1984, when he was asked to lead the church’s anti-abortion efforts in St. Louis. He felt the right to life was fundamental to the unborn, who he believed were fully human from the moment of conception.

“Of course it is a right of a woman to decide when to bear a child, but once that child is conceived, there are two human beings who both have rights at that point,” he said.

The archbishop said the St. Louis role taught him numerous ways to fight abortion, at church and beyond, and he took that knowledge with him as he rose through its hierarchy. He served seven years on the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities including as chairman.

He has joined bishops who have said President Joe Biden and other Catholic leaders who support abortion rights should not take Communion.

Naumann said he has deep sympathy for women facing unplanned or difficult pregnancies. He was raised by a single mother, he said, after his father was murdered at work while she was pregnant with Naumann.

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Rescuers dig for survivors of Russian missile strike on Ukrainian shopping mall

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© Reuters. Rescuers work at a site of a shopping mall hit by a Russian missile strike, as Russia’s attack on Ukraine continues, in Kremenchuk, in Poltava region, Ukraine June 27, 2022. Picture taken June 27, 2022. REUTERS/Anna Voitenko

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By Simon Lewis

KREMENCHUK, Ukraine (Reuters) – Firefighters and soldiers searched for survivors in the rubble of a shopping mall in central Ukraine on Tuesday after a Russian missile strike killed at least 16 people in an attack condemned by the United Nations and the West.

Family members of the missing lined up at a hotel across the street where rescue workers had set up a base after Monday’s strike on the busy mall in Kremenchuk, southeast of Kyiv.

More than a 1,000 people were inside when two Russian missiles slammed into the mall, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said. At least 16 people were killed and 59 injured, Ukraine’s emergency services said.

“This is not an accidental hit, this is a calculated Russian strike exactly onto this shopping centre,” Zelenskiy said in an evening video address. He said the death count could rise.

More than 40 people had been reported missing, Ukraine’s prosecutor general’s office said.

A survivor receiving treatment at Kremenchuk’s public hospital, Ludmyla Mykhailets, 43, said she was shopping with her husband when the blast threw her into the air.

“I flew head first and splinters hit my body. The whole place was collapsing,” she said.

“It was hell,” added her husband, Mykola, 45, blood seeping through a bandage wrapped around his head.

Russia has not commented on the strike but its deputy ambassador to the United Nations, Dmitry Polyanskiy, accused Ukraine of using the incident to gain sympathy ahead of a June 28-30 summit of the NATO military alliance.

“One should wait for what our Ministry of Defence will say, but there are too many striking discrepancies already,” Polyanskiy wrote on Twitter (NYSE:TWTR).

The United Nations Security Council will meet Tuesday at Ukraine’s request following the attack. U.N. spokesperson Stephane Dujarric said the missile strike was “deplorable”.

Leaders of the Group of Seven (G7) major democracies, at a summit in Germany, said the attack was “abominable”.

“Russian President Putin and those responsible will be held to account,” they wrote in a joint statement tweeted by the German government spokesperson.

BATTLE FOR LYSYCHANSK

Elsewhere on the battlefield, Ukraine endured another difficult day following the loss of the now-ruined city of Sievierodonetsk after weeks of bombardment and street fighting.

Russian artillery pounded Lysychansk, Sievierodonetsk’s twin city across the Siverskyi Donets River.

Lysychansk is the last big city still held by Ukraine in eastern Luhansk province, a main target for the Kremlin after Russian troops failed to take the capital Kyiv early in the war.

A Russian missile strike killed eight and wounded 21 others in Lysychansk on Monday, the area’s regional governor Serhiy Gaidai said. There was no immediate Russian comment.

Ukraine’s military said Russia’s forces were trying to cut off Lysychansk from the south.

Rodion Miroshnik, ambassador to Moscow of the Luhansk People’s Republic, said Russian troops and their Luhansk Republic allies were advancing westward into Lysychansk and street battles had erupted around the city’s stadium.

Fighting was on in several villages around the city, and Russian and allied troops had entered the Lysychansk oil refinery where Ukrainian troops were concentrated, Miroshnik said on his Telegram channel.

Reuters could not confirm Russian reports that Moscow’s troops had already entered the city.

Russia also shelled the city of Kharkiv in northeast Ukraine on Monday, hitting apartment buildings and a primary school, the regional governor said.

The shelling killed five people and wounded 22. There were children among those wounded, the governor said.

‘AS LONG AS IT TAKES’

Moscow denies targeting civilians in what it calls a “special military operation” in Ukraine, but Kyiv and the West have accused Russian forces of war crimes.

The war has killed thousands, sent millions fleeing, and triggered spikes in global food and energy prices.

During their summit in Germany, G7 leaders, including U.S. President Joe Biden, said they would keep sanctions on Russia for as long as necessary and intensify pressure on President Vladimir Putin’s government and its ally Belarus.

The United States also said it was finalising another weapons package for Ukraine that would include long-range air-defence systems.

Zelenskiy asked for more arms in a video address to the G7 leaders, U.S. and European officials said. He requested help to export grain from Ukraine and for more sanctions on Russia.

The G7 nations promised to squeeze Russia’s finances further – including a cap on the price of Russian oil that a U.S. official said was “close” – and pledged up to $29.5 billion more for Ukraine.

The White House said Russia had defaulted on its external debt for the first time in more than a century as sanctions have effectively cut the country off from global finance.

Russia rejected the claims, telling investors to go to Western financial agents for the cash which was sent but bondholders did not receive.

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Russian missile strike kills 16 in shopping mall, Ukraine says

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© Reuters. Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskiy attends a working session of G7 leaders via video link, as Russia’s attack on Ukraine continues, in Kyiv, Ukraine June 27, 2022. Ukrainian Presidential Press Service/Handout via REUTERS

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By Simon Lewis

KREMENCHUK, Ukraine (Reuters) -Two Russian missiles slammed into a crowded shopping centre in the central Ukrainian city of Kremenchuk on Monday, killing at least 16 people and wounding 59, officials said.

President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said more than 1,000 people were in the mall at the time of the attack, which witnesses said caused a huge fire and sent dark smoke billowing into the sky.

At least 16 people were killed and 59 injured, Ukraine’s emergency services said.

A Reuters reporter saw the charred husk of a shopping complex with a caved-in roof. Firefighters and soldiers were pulling out mangled pieces of metal as they searched for survivors.

The mall was engulfed in a wall of flame which turned to thick clouds of smoke as firefighters worked to contain the blaze. Aerial photos showed the structure reduced to twisted metal, with workers combing through growing piles of rubble.

“It is impossible to even imagine the number of victims … It’s useless to hope for decency and humanity from Russia,” Zelenskiy wrote on the Telegram messaging app.

Kremenchuk, an industrial city of 217,000 before Russia’s Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine, lies on the Dnipro River in the region of Poltava and is the site of Ukraine’s biggest oil refinery.

Dmytro Lunin, governor of the central Poltava region, wrote on Telegram that it was too soon to talk of a final death toll as rescuers continued to trawl through the rubble.

“It’s an act of terrorism against civilians,” he said separately, suggesting there was no military target nearby that Russia could have been aiming at.

At one point, paramedics rushed into the building after rescuers called out “200” meaning they had found one or more bodies in the building. Reporters were later pushed away from the scene as air raid sirens wailed again.

UKRAINE WANTS MORE WEAPONS

As night began to fall, rescuers brought lights and generators to continue the search. Worried family members, some close to tears and with hands over their mouths, lined up at a hotel across the street from the mall where rescue workers had set up a base.

Kiril Zhebolovsky, 24, was looking for his friend, Ruslan, 22, who worked at an electronics store and hadn’t been heard from since the blast. “We sent him messages, called, but nothing,” he said. He left his name and phone number with the rescue workers in case his friend is found.

A mall worker who gave his name as Roman, 28, told Reuters that the mall’s management had only three days ago allowed shops to remain open during air raid sirens.

Ukraine’s air force command said the mall was hit by two long-range X-22 missiles fired from Tu-22M3 bombers that flew from Shaykovka airfield in Russia’s Kaluga region.

Russia’s deputy ambassador to the United Nations, Dmitry Polyanskiy, wrote on Twitter (NYSE:TWTR), without citing evidence, that the attack was a “Ukrainian provocation.”

“Exactly what Kiev regime needs to keep focus of attention on Ukraine before (the) NATO Summit,” he said, referring to the alliance’s Madrid gathering due to begin on Tuesday.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said on Monday that the upcoming summit will agree a new assistance package for Ukraine in areas “like secure communications, anti-drone systems, and fuel.”

“We need more weapons to protect our people, we need missile defences,” Andriy Yermak, head of President Zelenskiy’s office, wrote on Twitter after the attack.

Vadym Denysenko, an interior ministry adviser, said Russia could have had three motives for the attack.

“The first, undoubtedly, is to sow panic, the second is to … destroy our infrastructure, and the third is to … raise the stakes to get the civilised West to sit down again at the table for talks,” he said.

Russia, which has captured the eastern Ukrainian city of Sievierodonetsk after a weeks-long assault, has stepped up missile strikes across Ukraine in recent days.

Missiles hit an apartment block and landed close to a kindergarten in the Ukrainian capital on Sunday, killing one person and wounding several more people.

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Biden pick for immigration enforcement withdraws after long delay

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© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Ed Gonzalez testifies on his nomination as director of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., July 15, 2021. REUTERS/Evelyn Hockstein

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Ed Gonzalez, a Texas sheriff, said on Monday he had told President Joe Biden that he had withdrawn from consideration for the post of director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement after a lengthy delay at getting confirmed by the U.S. Senate.

“More than a year has passed since the president nominated me for this important position, which has not had a Senate-confirmed director since the Obama administration,” Gonzalez said in a tweet, referring to Barack Obama, a Democrat who was president from 2009 to 2017.

A copy of his withdrawal letter sent to Biden on Sunday and seen by Reuters on Monday said he needed to focus on an uptick in violent crime in his county and a court backlog driven by the pandemic that has led to a surge in the jail population.

“All this leads me to the unavoidable conclusion that in 2022, I must devote my full, undivided attention and energy toward fulfilling the duties that the people of Harris Country elected me to perform,” he wrote.

A veteran law enforcement officer and Democrat, Gonzalez has served since 2017 as sheriff of Harris County, the most populous county in Texas and home to Houston, the state’s biggest city. In that role, Gonzalez ended the county’s participation in a program that increased cooperation between local law enforcement and federal immigration authorities.

Gonzalez had criticized immigration raids during the presidency of Republican former President Donald Trump. Biden nominated Gonzalez as the head of ICE (NYSE:ICE) in April 2021, but his confirmation was stalled in the Senate.

Biden has pledged to move away from the hardline immigration policy of his predecessor. His administration has instructed agents to focus on deporting those people in the United States illegally who have committed dangerous crimes, as well as targeting employers exploiting migrants instead of raiding workplaces to look for people working illegally.

The delay in confirming Gonzalez came after Republican Senator James Lankford raised concerns over an allegation made last year that the sheriff had become “physical or violent” with his wife several years ago, which both the sheriff and his wife deny.

Staff at the U.S. Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs looked into the domestic abuse charges against Gonzalez and found them without merit, according to a summary of their findings seen by Reuters.

A White House spokesperson responded to Gonzalez’s withdrawal.

“Sheriff Gonzalez has the qualifications and experience to do this important job and would have been a great leader of ICE. We thank Sheriff Gonzalez for his willingness to serve in the face of baseless allegations against his family and thank Homeland Security Chairman Peters for his diligent and hard work in support of the nomination,” the spokesperson said, referring to Senator Gary Peters.

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