Eight years ago, North Carolina state representative Tricia Cotham, a Democrat, stood on the House floor to oppose the state’s proposed 72-hour waiting period for abortion care and shared the story of her own termination.
“It was awful, it was painful, and it was sad. It was, and is, personal,” she said in 2015 of her decision to end an unviable pregnancy that threatened her life. “This decision was up to me, my husband, my doctor, and my God. It was not up to any of you in this chamber, and I didn’t take a survey.” Cotham finished her speech by saying: “My womb and my uterus is not up for your political grab. Legislators — you — do not hold shares in my body, so stop trying to manipulate my mind.”
But this week, Cotham stunned her party and the state’s 112th District when she announced she’s switching her affiliation to the GOP. Her decision effectively delivers Republicans a vetoproof supermajority in the statehouse, and with it, the power to end legal abortion in the state — a change that would be devastating not only for North Carolinians but the entire region.
Following the overturn of Roe v. Wade, North Carolina has become an indispensable point of access for patients in southern states where abortion is already illegal or on its way to becoming so. North Carolina, which allows abortion care up until 20 weeks of pregnancy, has seen a 37 percent increase in abortions — the largest in any state — since the Supreme Court issued its decision in June 2022.
But Republicans, who secured a supermajority in the state senate in the midterms, are dead set on banning the procedure. Last week, three state GOP members filed a bill that would outlaw abortions from the moment of conception, excluding narrowly defined cases where the pregnant person’s life is at risk — an exception that rarely works in the real world. The party is also considering introducing six-week and first-trimester abortion bans.
Democratic governor Roy Cooper, who’s had veto power since the GOP lost supermajority control of both chambers in 2018, was seen as the last line of defense on abortion rights in the state. Cotham, who ran on codifying Roe, saying that the state should “affirm the right to an abortion without interference,” has now handed Republicans the power to override Cooper’s veto. And bafflingly, in an interview with WBTV on Tuesday about her decision to switch parties, she said she was now open to supporting new abortion restrictions.
Cotham previously served as a Democrat from 2007 to 2017. She lost a bid for Congress in 2016, and was elected again to the statehouse in 2022. The Charlotte-area lawmaker was endorsed by EMILY’s List and represents a blue district in a county that President Biden won with nearly 67 percent of the vote in 2020. She also ran as a champion of LGBTQ+ rights and voting rights — areas that North Carolina Republicans are currently targeting with restrictive legislation.
It’s not entirely clear what drove Cotham to switch her party affiliation. In a speech about her decision, she said that “the modern-day Democratic Party has become unrecognizable to me and to so many others throughout this state and this country.” She added that she felt pushed out by the party; she’s been facing a wave of criticism for not showing up to vote in a critical session last week, which allowed Republicans to override Cooper’s veto on a controversial measure to repeal the state’s permit requirement for buying handguns.
“I am still who I am,” she told WBTV. “There are people who think you automatically make this switch — because in their mind and their perception and what they see on TV and the Facebook ads that run through them — now she is going to be this monster. That’s not true. I am still who I am.” Who she is, then, is someone who abruptly decided to go against many of the principles she has said she stood for, likely leading to disastrous consequences for the people who elected her.