The saga of North Carolina state Rep. Tricia Cotham (R) is a strange one: She was a vocally pro-choice Democrat who revealed in 2015 that she’d had a medically necessary abortion, then won her old seat in November 2022 only to defect to the Republican party in April and give the GOP a supermajority that they used to pass an abortion ban. Now, new reporting shows that local Republicans urged her to run as a Democrat—fooling voters in her very blue Charlotte-area district into thinking she strongly supported abortion rights—and were planting the seeds for her party switch for months.
On Sunday, the New York Times reported that both Republican House Speaker Tim Moore and Republican Majority Leader John Bell encouraged her to run in the Democratic primary in the spring of 2022. The Times described it this way: “Republican leaders cultivated her before she ran and, seeing her growing estrangement [from Democrats], seized a chance to coax her across party lines.”
Former Cotham associates painted a picture of a woman who thought Democrats were being mean to her. Longtime advisor Jonathan Coby said she was angry after the gun vote. “She said, ‘I’m either going to switch parties or resign,’” he recalled. “The things she was telling me then were like, ‘The Democrats don’t like me, the Republicans have helped me out a lot and been nice to me.’” (Coby said similar things to Jezebel in May.) Lacey Williams, a former advocacy director at the Charlotte-based Latin American Coalition in Charlotte, said Cotham “felt she did not get the gratitude or spotlight that she felt she deserved.”
In January of this year, Cotham co-sponsored a bill to codify Roe v. Wade into state law, but Jillian Reilly, a lobbyist for Planned Parenthood South Atlantic, told the Times that Cotham refused to meet with the group and wouldn’t take its phone calls. House Democratic Party leader Robert Reives showed the Times text exchanges between him and Cotham that the paper characterized as friendly. “It never would have crossed my mind that she was having issues,” Reives said.
Back in 2015, Cotham spoke on the House floor about her own medically necessary abortion for an ectopic pregnancy. After a leaked draft showed the Supreme Court was set to overturn Roe, she said on Twitter that she would be “unwavering and unapologetic” in her support of abortion rights. But after her party switch, she voted twice to ban abortion after 12 weeks, first to pass it and again to override the governor’s veto.
In June, she had the gall to say she was “still the same person,” and claimed she was never really that strong of an abortion supporter. “With abortion, that’s never been an issue that I was always out there for at all,” she said per the News & Observer. A week later, she continued in her valiant attempts to rewrite history by saying she didn’t have an abortion. “I had a miscarriage, and a miscarriage in medical terms is called a spontaneous abortion,” she told a radio host. “And so instead of saying—first of all, they should not even be talking about my miscarriage, that is just very painful and wrong—but they’re repeating this message that I had an abortion, and that is false.”
But back in 2015, when Cotham shared her experience on the House floor to oppose a bill that would restrict abortion, she used very different language, saying she had an “induced, physician-assisted miscarriage.” That’s definitely not a spontaneous event. Cotham was even featured in a June 2015 Time story on lawmakers talking about their abortions.
Now, thanks to the whims of one mercurial lawmaker courted by the GOP, abortion is less accessible for North Carolinians and millions of people across the South.
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