North Carolina Democrat Switches Parties, Now Says She’s Open To Abortion Restrictions

In the span of a few months, state Rep. Tricia Cotham has gone from pushing to codify abortion rights to joining the party that's taking them away.

North Carolina state Rep. Tricia Cotham announced Wednesday morning that she is changing political parties just three months after taking office — giving Republicans a precious veto-proof majority it can use to thwart Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper. That could have massive ramifications in a state where the legislature and governor frequently clash ― particularly on the issue of abortion.

Once a pro-choice Democrat, Cotham said she is now open to restricting abortion care in her home state.

“This has been something I have considered for a very long time. I have seen the Democratic Party change tremendously. When I came here and when I campaigned to be here, I really believed I could make change in the Democratic Party,” Cotham, who was first appointed to fill a vacant seat in 2008, said during a Wednesday press conference with Republican leaders in Raleigh.

“I realized on day one I was not welcomed and that they did not want me here. And that was very hard and I still kept trying,” Cotham added. The news of her decision was first reported by Axios Raleigh on Tuesday. Cotham did not immediately respond to HuffPost’s request for comment.

The move is already sending shockwaves through Democrats who had a fragile upper hand on safeguarding abortion rights in the state. North Carolina has been a critical safe haven in a post-Roe v. Wade landscape, but now pro-choice Cooper’s threat to veto any restriction that gets to his desk has essentially been rendered useless.

North Carolina state Rep. Tricia Cotham announces she is switching affiliation to the Republican Party at a news conference with GOP leadership on Wednesday, April 5.
North Carolina state Rep. Tricia Cotham announces she is switching affiliation to the Republican Party at a news conference with GOP leadership on Wednesday, April 5.
via Associated Press

Currently, abortion is available through 20 weeks of pregnancy in North Carolina. Since federal abortion protections were repealed last year, around a dozen states in the South and Midwest have enacted near-total bans on abortion, forcing North Carolina to receive an influx in patients traveling out of state for care. The Tar Heel State has seen a 37% increase in abortions since Roe fell — the biggest percentage increase in any state.

Before Cotham’s switch, Republicans had a supermajority in the Senate, controlling 30 of the 50 seats, and a majority in the House. Cotham’s decision gives Republicans in the House a supermajority, 72 of the 120 seats, allowing state GOP leaders to push through abortion restrictions and eliminating any need to compromise.

Cotham has been a pro-choice advocate throughout her tenure in the North Carolina legislature. When Roe fell last year, she said she would “fight to codify Roe … and continue my strong record of defending the right to choose.” She made good on that promise in January when she co-sponsored a bill to codify abortion protections alongside her then-fellow Democratic colleagues.

Now, Cotham is saying the opposite, telling local outlet WBTV she’s open to passing abortion restrictions. House Speaker Tim Moore (R) told the outlet that Republicans are eyeing a 12-week abortion ban with their new veto-proof majority power.

“The spot that most North Carolinians, in terms of the consensus, is somewhere down closer to the 12-week range. Personally, I support the heartbeat bill, but it appears the votes just aren’t there for that,” Moore said, referring to a six-week abortion ban.

Moore suggested during the Wednesday press conference that he’s had discussions with other North Carolina Democrats about switching party affiliations.

Cooper called Cotham’s decision “disappointing.”

“Rep. Cotham’s votes on women’s reproductive freedom, election laws, LGBTQ rights and strong public schools will determine the direction of the state we love,” he said in a statement. “It’s hard to believe she would abandon these long held principles and she should still vote the way she has always said she would vote when these issues arise, regardless of party affiliation.”

Several other top Democrats in the state are calling for Cotham to immediately resign, including Democratic House minority leader Rep. Robert Reives and state Democratic Party Chair Anderson Clayton.

“This is deceit of the highest order,” Jane Whitley, the Mecklenburg County Democratic Party Chair, said in a statement also calling for Cotham to step down.

North Carolina’s current legislative session ends in August, giving Republicans ample time to introduce new legislation around abortion.

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