North Carolinians who voted for state Rep. Tricia Cotham, who defended abortion rights before switching to the GOP, were "deeply betrayed," said one observer.
The North Carolina Legislature voted Tuesday to override Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper's veto and pass a bill banning abortions after 12 weeks of pregnancy, with Democrat-turned-Republican state Rep. Tricia Cotham giving the GOP the support it needed to ram the measure through in the face of significant public opposition.
Formerly an outspoken defender of reproductive rights—she's still listed as a co-sponsor of Democratic legislation to codify Roe—Cotham switched parties last month in a move that gave Republicans a veto-proof majority in the House, adding to its existing veto-proof majority in the Senate.
Cotham voted for the 12-week abortion ban's initial passage earlier this month and backed the veto override on Tuesday as protesters in the House gallery chanted, "Shame!"
In a statement, the now-Republican lawmaker said she believes the bill "strikes a reasonable balance on the abortion issue and represents a middle ground."
"Some call me a hypocrite since I voted for this bill. They presume to know my story," said Cotham, who has previously spoken about her own abortion. "As I said at the time, I had an ectopic pregnancy that sadly ended in miscarriage, not an elective abortion. In fact, Senate Bill 20 affirms the lifesaving care I received in that dire situation."
Progressive Durham County Commissioner Nida Allam argued that Cotham's statement essentially tells the people of North Carolina that "the bill would've protected me therefore it's enough, screw everyone else."
\u201cLast line from @triciacotham is basically saying \u201cthe bill would\u2019ve protected me therefore it\u2019s enough, screw everyone else.\u201d\u201d— Nida Allam (@Nida Allam) 1684286601
Rejecting Cotham's depiction of the abortion ban as moderate, Dr. Katherine Farris—Planned Parenthood South Atlantic's chief medical officer—warned the new law is "full of medically unnecessary and dangerous restrictions on abortion care that go against medical best practices."
"Not only do the actions of our lawmakers make me angry, but they also scare me," said Farris. "Treating my patients should not be seen as an act of civil disobedience. A person's health, not politicians, should guide important medical decisions at all stages of pregnancy."
As The Washington Postnoted, opponents of the measure have raised particular alarm over a "provision that would require patients to have an in-person consultation with a doctor at least 72 hours before an abortion, in addition to the visit required for the abortion itself."
"The extra in-person visit would make it harder for out-of-state patients to travel to North Carolina, which currently allows abortion until 20 weeks of pregnancy and has become a destination for patients seeking abortions across the South in the wake of the Supreme Court ruling [overturning Roe v. Wade]," the Post reported. "In the first two months after the landmark decision, North Carolina experienced a greater spike in abortions than any other state."
The new law would also, as Vox's Dylan Scott wrote Wednesday, establish "intrusive reporting requirements, such as mandating that doctors report a patient's fertility history to the state government after an abortion, including information such as their number of live pregnancies, previous pregnancies, and previous abortions."
"The law does include some provisions that Republicans say will provide additional support for children and families, including a new paid parental leave policy and increased child care subsidies," Scott observed. "But both programs have significant holes. Paid parental leave applies only to state employees, not the private sector. Increasing the state's child care subsidies for families already receiving them would not alleviate the main problem with accessing child care in North Carolina, as there are already 30,000 children in the state on a waitlist for financial assistance. The law does not do anything to get people off of that waitlist."
The 12-week abortion ban is set to take effect on July 1.
Alexis McGill Johnson, president and CEO of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said late Tuesday that "today's vote will have devastating consequences across North Carolina, and for the thousands of patients in the region who've relied on the state as a key access point for abortion."
"This ban, like all abortion bans, will harm people who have the right to make their own decisions based on what is best for themselves, their lives, their families, and their futures," said Johnson. "No one should be forced to travel out of state to access abortion care. No one should be forced to carry a pregnancy that they do not want, or that is dangerous to their health. And yet, today that is what the North Carolina legislature is forcing them to do."
"Today's vote will have devastating consequences across North Carolina, and for the thousands of patients in the region who've relied on the state as a key access point for abortion."
Citing two former Cotham staffers, Jezebel's Susan Rinkunas reported this past weekend that the lawmaker's decision to switch parties "wasn't really about any genuinely held beliefs, political issues, or even money."
As one ex-staffer put it: "I wish I could say that she took a giant bag of cash at an IHOP and that's why she did this—but it's so much dumber than that. It's just a deeply petty, personal thing."
The staffer told Rinkunas that Cotham felt her Democratic colleagues didn't like her.
"Cotham had also been annoyed that Planned Parenthood didn't endorse her," Rinkunas reported, even though Cotham "blew off the actual endorsement interview for the group multiple times" during her 2022 campaign.
In a Planned Parenthood candidate questionnaire for the 2022 race, Cotham described herself as "an unwavering advocate for abortion rights."
Following Tuesday's vote, Jezebel's Laura Bassett wrote that "North Carolinians are being politically trampled here, as they do not support banning abortion this early in a pregnancy: According to new polling by Carolina Forward/Change Research, 54% of voters in the state oppose the 12-week ban, while only 40% support it."
"It's a shame that people who voted for Cotham, thinking (reasonably) based on her previous speeches that she'd defend abortion rights, were deeply betrayed in the end," Bassett added.