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Democratic Party chair Rusty Hicks assailed as outsider in bid for North Coast Assembly seat

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Democratic Party chair Rusty Hicks assailed as outsider in bid for North Coast Assembly seat

At first glance, the Sonoma County Democratic Party’s 36th annual Crab Feed seemed the political schmoozefest it has been for nearly four decades.

For $70, Sonoma County residents could “bump elbows with elected officials” over a North Coast meal of Dungeness crab, salad and pasta served with locally produced red and white wines. But Democratic discord simmered beneath the pleasantries at the Feb. 23 decapod dinner.

The intraparty squabble involves who will replace Assemblymember Jim Wood (D-Healdsburg), who is retiring from his North Coast seat two years before most people expected. The shocking November announcement that Wood wouldn’t seek reelection for his final term after 10 years in the statehouse sent candidates scrambling to prop up campaigns with only a few months to raise money and support before Tuesday’s primary.

In his bid for State Assembly, Santa Rosa Councilmember Chris Rogers has emphasized his leadership in helping guide the region through drought, wildfires and the COVID-19 pandemic.

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(Josh Edelson / For The Times)

Three top candidates quickly emerged: California Democratic Party Chair Rusty Hicks, Healdsburg City Councilmember and nonprofit executive Ariel Kelley as well as former Santa Rosa mayor and current Councilmember Chris Rogers.

Disagreement among local Democratic leaders over who should represent Assembly District 2 — a left-leaning, geographically diverse region stretching from Santa Rosa to the Oregon border — has transformed the race into one of the most expensive and divisive in local history.

The Democratic trio are competing for a top-two placement in the March 5 primary, likely alongside the only Republican in the race who conceivably has enough GOP votes in the district to send him to the November general election. A majority of the district’s voters are registered Democrats, so the Democratic candidate who makes it through the primary has a good chance of winning in November.

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The district spans five counties — part of Sonoma plus all of Mendocino, Trinity, Humboldt and Del Norte — a roughly seven-hour drive from top to bottom. It takes in 307,000 voters, many of them working-class, across its rural geography. Many residents contend with a shortage of affordable housing, well-paying jobs and limited healthcare access. The region faces growing environmental threats, including deadly wildfires exacerbated by climate change.

The intensive jockeying among candidates to gain traction with voters was evident at the crab event.

“Vote Chris Rogers” buttons competed with “ARIEL” stickers, while Hicks sponsored a table prominently positioned at the front of the hall, where he sat across from Wood and Assembly Speaker Robert Rivas (D-Hollister).

A campaign pin has "Vote Chris Rogers for State Assembly" written on it.

A supporter wears a pin advocating Chris Rogers for State Assembly at a crab-eating event in Santa Rosa.

(Josh Edelson / For The Times)

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Much of the political brouhaha revolves around Hicks, 44, who moved to the region from Los Angeles only a few years ago — a blip in time by some local standards — but who brings with him considerable funding and clout. He is endorsed by outgoing Assemblymember Wood, Gov. Gavin Newsom, U.S. Sen. Laphonza Butler, veterans groups and a long list of powerful statewide labor organizations, among others.

Hicks is proving a formidable candidate. He’s a Texas native and Afghanistan War veteran who was president of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor before being elected Democratic Party chair in 2019. His reputation as a skilled strategist and even-keeled leader in the labor movement helped him dominate that race as the party looked to correct course in the aftermath of an internal sexual misconduct scandal.

His campaign messaging centers on safeguarding district jobs, creating more affordable housing options and expanding access to healthcare in a region with few medical clinics. He has also emphasized environmental preservation, an issue that resonates in a region home to towering redwoods and vast state and national parkland.

“I’m running because I’ve got a long track record of delivering real results for real people,” Hicks said.

A man smiles while talking with other people.

Rusty Hicks, chair of the California Democratic Party and a longtime Los Angeles labor leader, says he and his wife moved to Humboldt County in 2021, after falling in love with the area. Opponents to his Assembly bid question his North Coast credentials.

(Josh Edelson / For The Times)

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His opponents describe him in a different light.

Skeptics accuse Hicks of carpetbagging his way from Los Angeles to Humboldt County with ambitions to run for office, and have blasted his long list of donations from Southern California and Sacramento as evidence that he lacks connections to the people he wants to represent.

He’s also faced criticism for maintaining his influential position as party chair while campaigning for Assembly. Hicks said he has suspended his pay and benefits during the race and pledged to step down if elected.

Hicks said he and his wife bought their home in Arcata in Humboldt County in 2021 after falling in love with the North Coast while he was running for party chair. His campaign, he said, is “funded by individuals and workers and the unions that represent them,” a coalition that many backing his candidacy say no Democrat should be criticized for.

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Hicks faces a strong opponent in Kelley, 41, a former mayor of Healdsburg, whose endorsements include local government officials and statewide groups dedicated to electing more women to office and expanding access to safe abortion services.

A political action committee supporting Kelley — largely funded by her sister, who poured at least $200,000 into the PAC — has sponsored ads accusing Hicks of covering up sexual harassment in the Democratic Party, an allegation he and his proponents angrily deny. His campaign sent local TV stations cease-and-desist letters warning them against continuing to run ads that Hicks maintains are “patently false.”

Hicks has clapped back with criticism of Kelley’s investments in the oil industry and questioned her connections to a local developer who recently donated $50,000 to the political action committee.

“It’s unfortunate when some candidates and their supporters conclude that they can no longer talk about their own record or run on their own record and decide to lie about mine,” Hicks said.

Kelley said she doesn’t communicate with the PAC or her sister about its strategy, and agrees the negative campaigning is unhelpful. She said her father died last year and left her a trust that held investments “in a number of industries,” and that she plans to divest from those in oil and gas.

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A woman holds a hand over her heart at a crab-eating event.

Ariel Kelley, a former mayor of Healdsburg, is one of the Democratic candidates for a North Coast Assembly seat. She is endorsed by local government officials and statewide groups dedicated to electing more women to office.

(Josh Edelson / For The Times)

She’s called the attacks “completely baseless” and a distraction from real issues facing district voters, such as the need for paid family leave for rural families, ensuring access to reproductive healthcare, improving housing affordability and reducing homelessness.

“I’m really focused on just talking about my record of delivering. Because it’s a very strong record of delivering for this community, on homelessness, on wildfire prevention, on housing, healthcare access,” she said.

Rogers, 36, who has also mounted a fierce campaign, has called for his opponents to end the “mud-slinging,” even as he’s expressed many of the same concerns about Hicks’ fundraising strategies.

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Raised in Sonoma County, Rogers worked for a decade as an aide to congressional and state legislators in the district before launching his career in local politics. He contends he is most qualified to represent the district after steering the region through emergency after emergency as Santa Rosa’s mayor and during his time on the City Council, including the COVID-19 pandemic, a drought, flooding and devastating wildfires.

Rogers is endorsed by Senate President Pro Tem Mike McGuire (D-Healdsburg), whom he worked for as a legislative staffer, and a long list of city and county officials, a local firefighters group and environmental organizations. He said he’s focused on mitigating climate change, protecting local healthcare facilities from closing and addressing a critical narrowing of access to homeowners insurance in Northern California communities.

“I have that experience. Not just understanding the perspective, but how to translate needs in the district into legislative action,” Rogers said.

Yurok Tribe Vice Chair Frankie Myers, 43, is also running as a Democrat, hoping to become the second Native American elected to the California statehouse. Myers has received support from tribal communities throughout the state.

He’s tried, with limited success, to break through the bickering with his message about elevating tribal issues and the importance of environmental stewardship and universal healthcare.

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“I’m learning it is a privilege running for state Legislature. It has a lot of barriers for low-income people, people from historically disadvantaged communities,” he said. “We’ve only had one single elected Native American in the state Legislature in the history of this state. And now having campaigned, there’s some realizations I’m coming to about why that is.”

A man smiles while speaking to a woman at an event.

Frankie Myers, vice chair of the Yurok Tribe, is hoping to be the second Native American elected to the California Legislature.

(Josh Edelson / For The Times)

A fifth Democrat, Mendocino County Supervisor Ted Williams, hasn’t raised money and is in effect using his campaign to encourage candidates to focus on rural issues. A sixth Democratic candidate, Cynthia Click, has withdrawn from the race, though her name will appear on the ballot.

Michael Greer, the one Republican running for the seat, has focused his campaign on bread-and-butter issues familiar to many California families, including public safety, the rising numbers of people living homeless and spiraling housing costs, along with North Coast-specific concerns similar to those raised by the other candidates.

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“As one vote, as one Republican, can I change the votes on all these things?” Greer said of his potential effect in the Democratic-led Assembly. “No. But I can be loud enough to make sure that the rural areas are heard.”

People mingle at an event.

Santa Rosa’s 36th annual Crab Feed gave voters a chance to meet leading candidates in the bid to represent residents in the geographically diverse Assembly District 2, which spans California’s North Coast.

(Josh Edelson / For The Times)

Wood said many of the candidates are using overly broad rhetoric to describe the district’s challenges and seem unfamiliar with the progress he’s made in addressing specific policy areas during his decade in Sacramento. The real challenge, he said, will be building on his successes to fine-tune those policies.

“It’s a hugely challenging district,” Wood said. “So you have to really commit to spending the time to learn it and to respect it to be able to help solve some of the problems that we face.”

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Wood was quick to endorse Hicks’ bid for Assembly, saying he was confident the party chair would be a “workhorse” for the district.

“I respect anybody who wants to run here, but I think the depth and breadth of his experience and the things he’s done and his life experience make him the best candidate,” Wood said.

Wood noted, however, that he’s been surprised and disappointed by the negative campaigning.

“This is not what we’re used to on the North Coast,” he said. “I don’t like it, and I don’t think voters really like it either.”

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Chip Roy raises alarms about George Soros' purchase of radio giant Audacy

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Chip Roy raises alarms about George Soros' purchase of radio giant Audacy

FIRST ON FOX: Rep. Chip Roy is accusing liberal billionaire George Soros of trying to fast-track his acquisition of a major radio company through the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

“I write today regarding Soros Fund Management’s acquisition of over $400 million in debt held by Audacy — the second-largest broadcast radio station owner in the country. Of particular concern, the Soros groups are asking the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to approve a change in ownership in Audacy without the FCC running its normal, statutorily required process,” Roy said in a letter.

“This transaction, which affects radio stations that reach millions of listeners across the U.S., including in Texas’ 21st congressional district, should — at minimum — be subject to rigorous FCC oversight to ensure U.S. radio stations are not subject to undue influence.”

GEORGE SOROS’ SON BECOMES KINGMAKER WITH TOP DEMS AS HE MAKES MULTIPLE WH VISITS, MEETS WITH LAWMAKERS

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Rep. Chip Roy, left, is calling national attention to George Soros’ hedge fund acquiring a large stake in a radio company. (Getty Images)

Soros’ investment firm became the largest shareholder of Audacy last month, which owns local radio stations across the country. Audacy filed for bankruptcy earlier this year. 

Soros Fund Management was involved in a similar corporate restructure last year when it was one of the companies that acquired Vice Media after its bankruptcy filing last year.

Now, however, Roy raised alarm over Audacy also requesting that federal officials grant it a temporary exemption to existing FCC rules that forbid foreign company ownership of U.S. radio stations to exceed a 25% share, which would normally slow down the approval process.

ALEX SOROS’ ACCESS TO BIDEN’S WHITE HOUSE CONTINUES AS HE’S NOW VISITED AT LEAST 20 TIMES, RECORDS SHOW

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The Audacy radio logo

Audacy is the second-largest radio network in the U.S. after iHeartRadio. (Getty Images)

“But instead of going through the usual petition for declaratory ruling process, which would enable the FCC to review and assess those foreign ownership interests as part of its transaction review, the Soros group has asked the FCC to waive that process and put it off until sometime down the road — indicating that those foreign stakeholders will be given ‘special warrants’ in the meantime,” Roy wrote.

“The Soros group says that skipping the foreign ownership review at this time will enable the FCC to expedite its approval of the Soros applications and thus allow them to more quickly realize their ownership interests in, and take the reins at, these hundreds of local radio stations across the country.”

Audacy’s restructuring deal, which includes Soros’ firm and others, has been approved by the courts and is now awaiting its final hurdle — FCC approval, according to Inside Radio.

PROGRESSIVE MONEY MAN ALEX SOROS HUDDLES WITH DEM CANDIDATES AS 2024 CAMPAIGN HEATS UP

Roy told Fox News Digital that he heard from constituents who “reached out and raised issues and concerns about the extent to which it’s very clear that Soros is, you know, making a move in the radio world.”

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“I wanted to pose those questions to…understand what’s happening with the FCC on this, and raise the awareness publicly of the extent to which Soros’ people may be using — either the rules to their advantage, or frankly, the rules are getting abused to fast-track getting in there and grab that debt as a backdoor way to try to acquire a significant amount of ownership over local radio,” he said.

Fox News Digital reached out to Audacy, the FCC and a Soros representative for comment.

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Inside an Arizona abortion clinic: Uncertainty looms and optimism reigns

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Inside an Arizona abortion clinic: Uncertainty looms and optimism reigns

When Anna first read about the Arizona Supreme Court reinstating an 1864 law banning all abortions except when a mother’s life is at risk, she sent the article to her partner with an angry text.

“I was like, ‘God, this makes me so mad,’” she said.

She also decided to take a pregnancy test, just in case. Her period was a few days late, which she figured was because of her new birth control pills.

“I just want to make sure before anything goes into effect,” said Anna, 24, who declined to give her last name. “Thank God I did.”

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Days later, she found herself at Camelback Family Planning, discussing her options for an abortion.

The April 9 ruling set off a political hurricane, with both President Biden and former President Trump weighing in and Arizona’s Legislature devolving into chaos over whether to repeal the ban before it goes into effect June 8. But at a Phoenix abortion clinic, in the eye of the debate, it has been business as usual.

On Wednesday, Dr. Barbara Zipkin breezed into an examination room carrying Scooter, her emotional support dog. Although she lives in Sherman Oaks, Zipkin flies to Arizona most weeks, staying at her sister’s house while working three to five days at the Camelback clinic.

With her support dog Scooter staying in his bed, Dr. Barbara Zipkin rushes to an exam room at Camelback Family Planning on April 18, 2024, in Phoenix. The clinic will have to cease performing abortions on June 8 if the 1864 law banning abortions isn’t delayed of overturned.

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The doctor, who said she is “somewhere between 40 and death,” recalls the moment in 1973 when Roe vs. Wade took effect: She was on a plane returning to medical school, and she thought, “This is what I’m going to do.” She worked for years as an OB-GYN in Los Angeles, specializing in genetics and performing a lot of second trimester abortions.

“But there are enough providers in L.A.,” she said. “Arizona is unique.”

In the exam room, Zipkin walked Anna through her options — a medication abortion, which the patient had previously experienced with a difficult recovery, or a surgical procedure. Then Zipkin recited a state-mandated “silly consent” form, adding her own caveats to each point.

“Consent says the state of Arizona wants you to believe that there are alternatives to abortion. Well, that’s all well and good, but it’s not really true, because when you’re in this position, you really only have two options. One is carry it and the other is don’t carry it,” Zipkin said. “Adoption and all that — that comes after. You’re either carrying this or you’re not, and it still affects you.”

Anna said she’d always paid attention to the national conversation around abortion, as a woman and especially as an Arizonan. Anna said she had started taking birth control pills within a week of getting pregnant. As a 24-year-old who lives with roommates, she doesn’t consider herself financially able to care for a child.

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Zipkin performs an ultrasound on a patient.

Dr. Barbara Zipkin performs an ultrasound on a 25-year-old patient who didn’t want her name or face shown at Camelback Family Planning on April 18. The patient thought the Arizona 1864 law banning abortion had already taken effect and was planning on going to California for an abortion but she learned that the clinic in Phoenix was still open and performing abortions. “It makes me sad to think that women in the future may not be to have the choice to come here if that law goes into effect,” she said.

“It’s just not the situation I want for myself, or my children in the future. I want a two-parent household in a stable home, or a stable situation,” Anna said. “I just don’t know that I’m in that right now.”

After her 10-minute consultation with Zipkin, Anna scheduled an appointment for the following week, when she would decide whether to have a medication or surgical abortion.

After answering Anna’s questions, Zipkin offered her last bit of guidance: “Before I forget, because I have the attention span of a gnat — vote!”

Abortion is likely to top voters’ concerns in Arizona, where state legislators have yet to vote on a proposed bill repealing the ban.

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In the sunny plaza between the two state Capitol chambers, protesters on both sides of the debate milled about Wednesday, some wearing bright orange T-shirts in support of Arizona for Abortion Access, and others in shirts depicting baby’s feet and proclaiming “Choose life.”

Uncertainty at the clinic

Back at the Camelback clinic, staff members gathered in the break room, decorated with posters and handmade thank you cards, including one with a uterus drawn in place of a “Y.” They discussed what could happen after June 8, and the clinic’s founder, Dr. Gabrielle Goodrick, sought to provide clarity.

1 A Thank You card hangs on the refrigerator in the beak room at Camelback Family Planning on April 17, 2024

2 A Thank You cards hang on a cupboard at Camelback Family Planning on April 18, 2024 in Phoenix, Arizona.

3 Information on a no-cost abortion clinic in San Francisco hangs on the glass at the

1. A Thank You card hangs on the refrigerator in the beak room at Camelback Family Planning on April 17, 2024 in Phoenix, Arizona. The clinic will have to cease performing abortions on June 8 if the 1864 law banning abortions isn’t delayed or overturned. 2. A Thank You cards hang on a cupboard at Camelback Family Planning on April 18, 2024 in Phoenix, Arizona. The clinic will have to cease performing abortions on June 8 if the 1864 law banning abortions isn’t delayed or overturned. 3. Information on a no-cost abortion clinic in San Francisco hangs on the glass at the reception area at Camelback Family Planning on April 18, 2024 in Phoenix, Arizona. The clinic will have to cease performing abortions on June 8 if the 1864 law banning abortions isn’t delayed or overturned.

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She’s hopeful that a constitutional amendment guaranteeing abortion access will be on the November ballot — activists with Arizona for Abortion Access say they have gathered enough signatures.

“People were pretty nervous and stressed that they’re not going to have a job until November,” Goodrick said.

For a clinic rocked by Supreme Court decisions, it has become adept at weathering changes, Goodrick said. A ruling comes down, the staff adjusts its routines and schedules and continues to provide abortions with new limitations, which sometimes includes referring patients to clinics in California or Nevada.

The constant fluctuations have had their toll, though. The clinic, which Goodrick opened in 1999, usually averages about 350 patients a month. That total dropped in 2022 amid patient confusion over what would happen in the wake of Roe vs. Wade being overturned. Her small staff of 12 shrank to six, Goodrick said, as workers grew tired “from the stress of just not knowing.”

The doctor and her staff had just gotten into the swing of their new routine when the state Supreme Court ruling came down.

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 Dr. Barbara Zipkin, right, consults with a co-worker over ultrasound results at Camelback Family

Dr. Barbara Zipkin, right, consults with a co-worker over ultrasound results at Camelback Family Planning . The clinic will have to cease performing abortions on June 8 if enforcement of the 1864 law banning abortions isn’t delayed or overturned.

“The patients are more anxious,” Goodrick said. “It causes what the Republicans want, which is mayhem.”

But this time, she hopes, will be different.

“We just have to get to Nov. 25,” Goodrick said, referring to the date that a constitutional amendment, if approved, would take effect.

Confident that the political fight will turn in her favor, Goodrick has opened the clinic’s doors to media from around the globe, who’ve descended on Arizona to chronicle the latest front in a nationwide battle over abortion.

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Nurses wearing “abortion is healthcare” T-shirts moved deftly around the journalists, whom they’ve grown accustomed to filling their workplace recently. On their lunch break, the staff crowded into the break room, bickering over Supreme Court justices.

“Which one’s worse — [Clarence] Thomas or [Samuel] Alito?” one asked.

Sitting at a folding table laden with snacks, Dr. Jessica Holmes peered at the clinic’s schedule on her laptop.

Nurses carry charts to exam rooms past thank you cards tacked to cupboards and artwork of a uterus hanging on a clothesline.

Nurses carry charts to exam rooms past thank you cards tacked to cupboards and artwork of a uterus hanging on a clothesline at Camelback Family Planning.

“Are you doing through June, or only the first eight days?” Holmes asked.

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“No, we’ll go through June,” Goodrick answered briskly.

Opposing forces of optimism

Standing on the sidewalk a few yards from the clinic door, antiabortion activists were similarly optimistic about the future of Arizona’s abortion law.

“We accept it as a victory and we’re very excited,” said Matt Engelthaler, 49, who has protested abortions since he was a teenager, when he first joined his parents to pray outside clinics. “But we also realize that changing laws isn’t what’s gonna do anything, it’s just changing hearts. That’s what we pray for.”

Engelthaler fingered rosary beads as he held a sign that said, “Choose life.” A Catholic, he said he prayed the rosary “for the moms, dads and the babies,” and another prayer for the abortion clinic workers, “that they can understand the travesty of what they’re doing and turn away from it.”

A passing car honked, and the driver stuck his middle finger in the air at the protesters.

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“People just don’t know how to do the peace sign correctly,” Engelthaler said with a laugh.

A few minutes later, another car honked and the driver gave a thumbs up.

By the clinic door, three volunteers wearing bright, rainbow-colored vests escorted patients from their cars into the clinic, blocking their view of the sidewalk protesters with large, rainbow umbrellas. Michael Buble played on a nearby speaker, ready to drown out any protester’s megaphone.

“When they go loud, we go louder,” said one escort, who declined to give her name. She said her group of volunteers would continue serving at the clinic until they’re told to stop.

One of the patients, a 26-year-old from Phoenix, said the escorts’ music lifted her spirits on an otherwise bleak day. She took Scooter into her arms and, stroking the dog’s back, told the doctor that she found out she was pregnant two days after the state Supreme Court decision.

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A patient strokes support dog Scooter in an exam room

A 26-year-old patient from Phoenix strokes support dog Scooter in an exam room as Dr. Barbara Zipkin discusses her options for an abortion. The patient found out she was pregnant two days after the Arizona Supreme Court reinstated an 1864 law banning abortion.

“It has just been draining, in that sense of like, wow — this would happen this week,” the patient said.

She said that as Christians, her family vehemently opposes abortion and would support her if she decided to have a baby. The woman said she and her partner decided to keep the abortion private.

“It’s definitely confusing and emotional, considering, like, my upbringing,” she said. But referring to the escorts outside who welcomed her, she added, “it’s also encouraging, in a sense, because you do feel this community.”

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How the Senate Voted on Foreign Aid to Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan

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How the Senate Voted on Foreign Aid to Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan

The Senate on Tuesday passed the long-stalled $95.3 billion package of aid to Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan, along with legislation that could lead to a ban on TikTok, clearing the measure and sending it to President Biden for his signature.

Answer Democrats Republicans Independents Total Bar chart of total votes
0 0 0 0
0 0 0 0

Note: Three senators did not vote.

The overwhelming vote reflected broad bipartisan support for the measure, which passed the House on Saturday by wide margins after a tortured journey through Congress that was met with right-wing resistance.

The measure includes $60.8 billion for Ukraine; $26.4 billion for Israel and humanitarian aid for civilians in conflict zones, including Gaza; and $8.1 billion for the Indo-Pacific region. It also would impose a new round of sanctions on Iran, and require the sale of TikTok by its Chinese owner or ban the app in the United States.

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The measure had been stalled for months on Capitol Hill, where right-wing Republicans opposed to the aid for Ukraine pressured Speaker Mike Johnson not to allow it to be considered unless their demands for a severe border enforcement bill were met.

But when Republicans, egged on by former President Donald J. Trump, rejected linking it to a bipartisan border deal, the Senate passed the foreign assistance package on its own in February and pressured the House to do the same.

It took Mr. Johnson two additional months to figure out a way to steer around his right flank and do so. He used a convoluted maneuver in which the House cast separate votes to push through the pieces of the package and sent them to the Senate as one bill.

The TikTok provision was included as part of an effort to sweeten the deal for conservatives. Lawmakers have repeatedly cited the potential for Beijing to gain access to U.S. user data or to use the app for propaganda, including ahead of this year’s presidential election.

How Every Senator Voted

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