North Carolina Republicans Face Backlash Over Abortion Rights Betrayal

Tricia Cotham

Tricia Cotham

When Tricia Cotham ran for the North Carolina House last year to represent Mecklenburg County, she did so as a veteran Democratic lawmaker on a promise to protect abortion rights.

"Now, more than ever we need leaders who will be unwavering and unapologetic in their support of abortion rights," Cotham tweeted on May 3, 2022, the day after the Supreme Court's draft opinion overturning Roe v. Wade leaked. Cotham promised to "fight to codify Roe" and pledged in a Planned Parenthood questionnaire to "oppose any legislation that restricts abortion access."

Not only did Cotham ultimately renege on every one of those promises, she also provided House Republicans with the power to make sure Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper couldn't block the GOP's 12-week abortion ban.

After taking office as a Democrat in January, Cotham announced a party switch in April, solidifying a GOP supermajority in the state legislature. By mid-May, Tar Heel Republicans had unveiled their 12-week abortion ban, passed it, and overridden Cooper's veto of it—all in a little over a month since Cotham's switch.

There's a word for the betrayal Cotham committed: Turncoat.

But the question now isn't just whether Democrats can oust Cotham and reclaim representation of her blue-leaning Charlotte district. It's whether Democrats can ride that rage all the way to flipping the state in next year's presidential contest, not to mention hang on to the governor's mansion.

President Joe Biden lost the state in 2020 by a little over a point, positioning it as Democrats' best chance for a flip in 2024.

After Republicans succeeded in jamming Cooper's veto Tuesday, abortion rights activists at the state House gallery erupted in chants of "Shame! Shame!"

Anderson Clayton, chair of the North Carolina Democratic Party, captured some of the sound and tweeted it out with a raw missive.

"after the vote was taken tonight, folks in the gallery were loud," Clayton wrote. "our right to our own bodies was just voted on. and tonight, the people just yelled. we’re tired, that’s for sure, but more than that, we’re angry. we’re motivated. and there’s a movement behind us."

That motivation is fueled by more than Cotham's betrayal and the ban itself. Cotham was one of four state Republican lawmakers who ran on a pledge to protect abortion rights, as Cooper pointed out repeatedly in the runup to the override vote.

"Ted Davis, Michael Lee, John Bradford and Tricia Cotham promised to protect women’s reproductive freedom. There’s still time for them to keep their promises," Cooper tweeted on May 4.

Given their records now, how can voters place any trust in what Republican lawmakers tell them on the issue?

As NARAL Political Director Ryan Stitzlein told Daily Kos last week, no matter what they say on the campaign trail, Republicans will enact abortion bans just as soon as they have the power to do so.

"All four of them during their campaigns said they would not do the thing that they went and did," said Stitzlein, "and as soon as they got the chance, they went back on their word."

In fact, North Carolina Republicans have made it clear they passed the strictest abortion ban they believed possible and will push for more if they gain seats next year in the state legislature and/or take control of the governor's mansion.

“This represents the legislation that I believe this General Assembly can pass,” GOP House Speaker Tim Moore said just after Republicans overrode the veto. “I can’t say what’ll happen two years, four years, 10 years from now.”

Republican Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson, who's running for governor, pledged earlier this year that he would sign a total abortion ban without any exceptions for rape, incest, or the life of the mother.

Robinson hopes to tighten the rules after the '24 elections, assuming he wins.

Democrats are already seizing on the issue to light a fire under voters. Within less than an hour of the override vote, Democratic Attorney General Josh Stein, who's running to replace Cooper, warned voters of Republican intentions.

“Make no mistake — this is only the beginning,” Stein said. “In 2024, we’re up against politicians like Mark Robinson who want to make abortion illegal for any reason even in cases of rape or incest," Stein added, urging North Carolinians to "choose freedom."

From reproductive rights to book bans, LGTBQ+ rights, and more, freedom is already emerging as a central theme in local and national races. The question now is whether Democrats in North Carolina and other battleground states can make the case to critical swing voters that choosing freedom transcends any other issue Republicans manufacture between now and Election Day.

Reprinted with permission from Daily Kos.

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