As it has been explained to the people of her Mecklenburg County legislative district and millions of others following the story across the state and nation, the impetus for state Rep. Tricia Cotham’s recent switch from the Democratic Party to the GOP was her frustration with her longtime party’s alleged commitment to ideological and policy orthodoxy.
In announcing her move, Cotham said Democrats want to “villainize anyone who has free thought, free judgment, has solutions, who wants to get to work and better our state, and not just sit in a meeting and have a workshop after a workshop.”
A person who worked for Cotham for years, and who resigned in the wake of her dramatic move categorically rejected that assessment, saying “ego and admiration are Cotham’s driving forces.”
It’s also a tad difficult to see how embracing an almost exclusively white party long led by Donald Trump – a party that has championed banning books, purging all non-Republicans from the leadership of the UNC system, and silencing debate on several of the most important votes in the General Assembly over the last decade-plus – serves to vindicate open-minded freedom of thought and judgment, but hey, Cotham is entitled to her opinion.
What’s more, the fact remains that, whatever letter appears next to Cotham’s name – or that of any of the other 169 state legislators – the 2023 session of the General Assembly is rapidly headed toward some moments of truth on an array of vitally important topics.
One of the highest profile examples: abortion rights. Polls have long shown that North Carolinians strongly support allowing trained professionals to provide their patients with the full range of reproductive healthcare that modern medicine makes available. And as Rep. Cotham eloquently explained a few years back in describing her own experience on the state House floor, abortion care is an area in which state lawmakers – almost all of them Republicans – have already enacted laws that destructively endanger patient well-being.
In a world in which the drug protocol used in most abortion care remains vastly safer than carrying a pregnancy to term, the state’s 72-hour waiting period law has nothing to do with patient health or well-being. Rather it’s simply a construct designed and implemented at the behest of anti-abortion activists to serve as a roadblock that will make to harder to obtain care of which they disapprove. The same is true for the state’s ban on abortion care after the 20th week of gestation – which healthcare professionals undertake only in urgent and very limited circumstances — like severe fetal abnormalities or serious pregnancy complications.
Notwithstanding public opinion and these already problematic laws, the General Assembly will soon vote on one or more proposals to dramatically restrict, if not ban outright, abortion care. And regardless of their party affiliation, all 170 members will be asked to cast a “yes” or “no” vote.
The decision they render will directly affect the lives of thousands of pregnant people from across the southeastern United States in the most direct and intimate way imaginable. Indeed, to say that it will be a “life or death” decision for several of them is not, according to medical experts, an exaggeration.
Whatever her reasoning and/or perception of reality about her recent change in partisan affiliation, nothing has really changed for Rep. Cotham. Sometime in the coming weeks, the General Assembly’s gerrymandered conservative majority will pass a bill mandating new and destructive restrictions on abortion care and Gov. Roy Cooper will veto the legislation. And then soon thereafter, the acid test will take place – a vote on a motion in the state House to override the veto.
It takes 72 votes to override a veto in the House and right now, with Cotham in the fold, the GOP caucus is 72 strong. That said, as one of the most powerful Republican House members, Rep. Destin Hall, told reporters at the time of her affiliation change that “Her principles and views have not changed.”
If that’s true – Cotham, a strong and longstanding defender of abortion rights who ran on such a platform last November – can still, as Cooper noted the other day, do the right thing.
Whether she will, of course, is the giant unanswered question of the legislative session. Cotham has thus far refused to respond to media inquiries on the subject. Last week, she told Newsline’s Lynn Bonner that she was too busy “resting.”
But if Cotham and her defenders are correct that the Republican Party is the place in North Carolina politics where diversity of viewpoints is truly valued, Cotham will stick to her long-held position and won’t be the only vote in her new party to stop this legislation.
Given the strong likelihood that there are multiple Republican lawmakers – women and men – who’ve either obtained or supported a partner of loved one in obtaining an abortion, there’s simply no way such legislation can become law without either: a) a free thought-crushing edict from GOP leadership, b) a truly mind-blowing exercise in cruel and self-serving hypocrisy, or c) both.
NC Newsline Editor Rob Schofield oversees day-to-day newsroom operations, authors regular commentaries, and hosts a weekly radio show/podcast. Republished from ncnewsline.com.