Party-switching North Carolina state Rep. Tricia Cotham (R), who was instrumental in overriding a veto of the state’s 12-week abortion ban Tuesday night, defended her decision to uphold the ban despite having once been an outspoken supporter of reproductive rights.
Cotham ― who switched parties last month, thereby giving the North Carolina GOP the supermajority it needed to override Gov. Roy Cooper’s vetoes ― described the state ban on abortion after 12 weeks of pregnancy as one that “strikes a reasonable balance” and “represents a middle ground.” This ban, she claimed, will still allow the procedure in “the timeframe when most abortions occur.”
North Carolina state Rep. Tricia Cotham (R) in Raleigh on May 16 ahead of a debate on the veto override.
But Cotham’s characterization ignores the current reality of America’s abortion landscape. Since the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade last year, getting access to the procedure has become a logistical nightmare for many patients. Depending on where they live, people seeking an abortion may need to travel several states away for care, inundating clinics in states where abortion remains legal.
North Carolina, which will still allow abortions up to 20 weeks into a pregnancy until the new ban goes into effect on July 1, has seen a 37% increase in abortions since the fall of Roe ― the highest-percentage increase in any state since the Supreme Court’s ruling last June.
That creates longer wait times to see providers ― sometimes by several weeks ― which means patients may need to become aware of their pregnancy, and decide how to proceed, far earlier than Cotham and her GOP colleagues have implied.
A protestor in Raleigh slams Cotham as a "traitor" on May 13.
The bill also requires patients to have an in-person consultation with their provider 72 hours before the abortion ― a process that, in North Carolina, is currently allowed to take place over the phone. The bill further requires patients who undergo a medication abortion to come in for a follow-up visit. Both those stipulations would take up available appointment times at clinics, likely extending wait times even further.
Cotham, who spoke about her own medically necessary abortion on the state House floor in 2015, praised the 12-week ban in her statement as “crucially providing exceptions for rape, incest, severe fetal abnormalities, and to protect the life of the mother.” The bill, she claimed, “affirms the life-saving care” she received when she underwent a physician-advised abortion to protect both her life and her fertility during an ectopic pregnancy.
“It was very important to me that this legislation protects all women going through a miscarriage or other complications ― and it most certainly does,” she said.
On April 23, 2015, NC Rep. Tricia Cotham delivers emotional speech in opposition to proposed waiting periods for women seeking abortions. She shares personal story. “This decision was up to me, my husband, my doctor and my God. It was not up to any of you in this chamber.” #ncpolpic.twitter.com/2Of51R7amX
— Bryan Anderson (@BryanRAnderson) April 5, 2023
But such “life-saving” exceptions are not so easily applied. In some cases, it simply means that hospitals, wary of lawsuits, wait until a patient is at death’s door before helping terminate the pregnancy.
In March, five women who were denied life-saving abortions in Texas filed a lawsuit against the state, saying its six-week abortion ban forced their health care providers to delay care until the last possible moment. While four of the plaintiffs ultimately decided to travel outside the state for treatment, one of them was told it was unsafe to travel. It wasn’t until the pregnancy caused her to go into septic shock ― a life-threatening reaction in the bloodstream to an infection ― that her providers felt they were in the clear, legally, to proceed with an abortion.
When she spoke before her colleagues in 2015, Cotham appeared to understand the nuances of the abortion issue, and the problems with government intervention.
“This decision was up to me, my husband, my doctor and my God. It was not up to any of you in this chamber,” she said at the time.
And as recently as four months ago, she co-sponsored a bill to codify abortion protections in North Carolina.
Cotham walked away from a reporter on Wednesday afternoon when he pressed her on those inconsistencies.
NEW: I tried asking Rep. Tricia Cotham about her vote on the abortion bill and her statement. She did not want to answer questions about the issue @WNCN@Queen_City_News@wnct9@myfox8#ncpol#ncgapic.twitter.com/2JknDhQhrK
— Michael Hyland (@MichaelWNCN) May 17, 2023
“One question that a lot of people have, though, is how you reconcile the vote with your public statements in the past being in support of abortion rights?” WNCN reporter Michael Hyland asked her.
Cotham asked him to stop asking her questions and referred him to her statement.
A few months after winning reelection for her current term in late 2022, Cotham renounced her Democratic affiliations and joined North Carolina’s GOP ― giving the party a powerful supermajority in the state House and paving the way for Republicans to override vetoes by the state’s Democratic governor. She claimed she made the change because of bullying by her Democratic colleagues.
Immediately, questions arose regarding how Cotham’s switch would affect abortion access in the state. But at an April press conference announcing her new affiliation, she more or less said she didn’t want to talk about abortion.
“I believe women are much more,” she said then. “We are business owners. We help create economies. We raise families. We carry it all. And to always be tied just to that tragic, hard topic is wrong.”
She later told local outlet WBTV that she supports banning abortion at around six weeks of pregnancy, but that there was a “consensus” among North Carolinians in support of a 12-week ban.
However, polling by Carolina Forward/Change Research found earlier this month that more than half of likely voters were either strongly opposed or somewhat opposed to the 12-week ban.