"Shame": Protests and outrage as former Democrat paves the way for North Carolina abortion ban

Rep. Tricia Cotham, R-N.C., switched from being a Dem last month but sponsored a bill codifying Roe four months ago

By Tatyana Tandanpolie

Staff Writer

Published May 17, 2023 3:37PM (EDT)

Pro-Choice Protest (JASON REDMOND/AFP via Getty Images)
Pro-Choice Protest (JASON REDMOND/AFP via Getty Images)

House Republicans in North Carolina overrode Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper's Saturday veto of a 12-week abortion limit — with the critical help of a former Democrat — sparking outcry from progressive North Carolina legislators and abortion rights advocates.

The Republican-controlled General Assembly completed the final part of the override vote after a three-fifths majority voted in its favor in the Senate earlier Tuesday. The decision makes the 12-week ban on abortion access law in the state, a major victory for Republican legislators who needed every GOP lawmaker's support in order to enact the law, the Associated Press reports.

Cooper reportedly convened with several Republicans last week in an effort to persuade at least one to side with him on the override, which would be enough to maintain his veto. However, four of the Republicans he targeted — including Rep. Tricia Cotham, R-N.C., who switched from being a Democrat last month — voted against him.

The new abortion limit is set to take effect July 1, additionally instituting exceptions for rape or incest through 20 weeks of pregnancy, "life-limiting" fetal anomalies in the first 24 weeks, and maintaining an existing exception for circumstances that endanger the life of the pregnant person.

The General Assembly's decision was immediately met with outcry from pro-choice protesters. A video from Anderson Clayton, the North Carolina Democratic Party chair, showed advocates chanting, "Shame," in the legislative building's gallery.

"After the vote was taken tonight, folks in the gallery were loud," she tweeted alongside the video. "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."

Following Tuesday's vote, Gov. Cooper released a statement on the override, assuring constituents that he will do "everything I can to protect abortion access in North Carolina because women's lives depend on it."

"Strong majorities of North Carolinians don't want right-wing politicians in the exam room with women and their doctors, which is even more understandable today after several Republican lawmakers broke their promises to protect women's reproductive freedom," the statement began.

Mackenzie Reedybacon, the chair of the Cabarrus County Democratic Party in North Carolina, expressed her disappointment in a statement shared to Twitter, reminding constituents of the work they did to canvas for the county's first Democratic representative in over 20 years in an effort to instill hope.

"I'm at a loss for words right now," Reedybacon wrote. "Y'all did everything right. Last year, you knocked doors and made calls morning, noon and night. You organized your precincts and neighborhoods. you donated your time, talent and treasure to see candidates' visions realized."

"And yet — we have just seen one of the most restrictive, regressive abortion bans in recent state history rushed through the Senate and House to become law," she added. "Please know that all of our work is not erased or undone because of this bill. In fact, the Republican-led legislature is scared by how effective we can be when we work together."

Rep. Deborah Ross, D-N.C., also shared a video to Twitter in response to the override vote, attempting to galvanize viewers to "fight back at the ballots."

"Republicans have betrayed the people of North Carolina & turned back the clock 50 years," she wrote in the tweet. "But this fight isn't over. Republicans will feel the ramifications of this abortion ban at the ballot box."

Victor Shi, the youngest elected Biden delegate and a former White House intern, echoed Ross' sentiments in a thread.

"Hey, North Carolina: congratulations. You, once again, have pissed off more women & young people than you could possibly imagine by overriding the governor's veto of a 12 week abortion ban. Women & young people will respond appropriately in 2024. Just wait & see," he said.

Cotham, who has championed abortion rights in the past and even sought an endorsement from Planned Parenthood South Atlantic during her 2022 campaign, also drew a plethora of criticism for her role in the override. Her party switch supplied the North Carolina GOP with the support they needed to gain veto-proof seat majorities in both chambers of the General Assembly.

"Rep. Tricia Cotham LIED. Rep. John Bradford LIED. Rep. Ted Davis LIED. All three of these Republicans promised voters that they would protect their right to choose. All three of them voted to override the veto on SB20 last night. North Carolinians deserve better. #ncpol," Democratic state Rep. Wesley Harris said in a Tweet reacting to the news Wednesday morning.

The president and CEO of Planned Parenthood, Alexis McGill Johnson, also admonished Cotham, linking to a Saturday story from Jezebel on the Republican state representative's former aides' response to her "abortion betrayal." 

"⁦@triciacotham is not just playing politics with the lives of North Carolinians. She is playing petty. What an utterly disgraceful lack of leadership!," Johnson said.

The article details the former staffers' devastation and confusion over Cotham's vote and party change, with one former aide claiming that Cotham saw an opportunity "to be the new shiny object in the Republican Party" because she felt under-appreciated and unsupported by her Democratic colleagues.

Cotham released a lengthy statement on her decision after the vote late Tuesday, saying that the bill "strikes a reasonable balance" that "represents a middle ground that anyone not holding extremist positions can support."

The News & Observer in North Carolina also reported that Cotham mouthed "I see you," to the protestors being escorted from the House gallery following the vote.

By Tatyana Tandanpolie

Tatyana Tandanpolie is a staff writer at Salon. Born and raised in central Ohio, she moved to New York City in 2018 to pursue degrees in Journalism and Africana Studies at New York University. She is currently based in her home state and has previously written for local Columbus publications, including Columbus Monthly, CityScene Magazine and The Columbus Dispatch.

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Abortion Rights Aggregate Gop News North Carolina Tricia Cotham