As red states continue to rack up laws that restrict access to abortion, basic contraception and preventive care, it can seem that Republicans have put the needs of women second to toeing the Tea Party line. Oklahoma, for example, has continuously pushed through such legislation. But there’s a surprising voice in that state: Republican State Representative Doug Cox, an MD who has continued to practice during his 10 years in office. “This bill is prejudiced,” Cox said earlier this month, during a committee hearing for a bill that would make it harder for women under 17 to get the morning after pill. “It’s prejudiced against women. A 14-year-old boy can go to the truck stop and buy all the condoms he wants. He can control his destiny. This bill takes the ability to control their destiny away from women. But that’s what we do in the Republican Party these days.”
Rolling Stone spoke with Rep. Cox from his office in Oklahoma City.
What do you think of the current Republican Party’s approach to women’s reproductive rights?
Abortion is one thing, but when you start talking about limiting contraceptives, that’s going too far. If you truly oppose abortions, you should do everything in your power to prevent unwanted pregnancy — from abstinence, to condoms, to birth control pills, all the way to IUDs and morning-after pills. When you take a morning-after pill, over 90 percent of those women probably aren’t pregnant anyway. And they have no way of knowing in that early of a stage whether or not they’re pregnant. To be able to do something that simple to prevent an unwanted pregnancy — and potentially prevent a pregnancy which might be aborted — is a good thing. And to prevent that, to me, is counterintuitive to saying, “We oppose abortions.” To require a prescription for a drug that has been determined to be safe and effective by the FDA adds basically another $100 to the cost, and to me that discriminates against lower-income women.
What has the reaction to your thinking been like from constituents and colleagues?
The local reaction here in Oklahoma has been very quiet, but I have received phone calls and emails from all 50 states — many from Republicans — who support my standing up for women and women’s access to contraception. I’ve heard from many people, both male and female, who have used the Republican Party’s increasingly radical stance on women’s issues as the reason they left the Republican Party. I’m a physician first. I’m not very politically astute. If I was, I probably wouldn’t say things I say. But on the other hand, after being here for ten years, I’m getting more politically astute. When you look at the Republicans’ inability to win a presidential election, the exodus of women and minorities from the party is significant, and we need to stop that.
But you haven’t gotten any feedback from other Republicans saying, “you shouldn’t be voting like this”?
No, I have a long history of voting my conscience and sleeping well at night, and I think they’ve given up on me. They just know that’s the way I am. I know many Republicans who are adamant in their position, and that’s their personal belief. I respect their beliefs. But what’s frustrating to me is that I know some that come out and say, “You know, we feel the way you do, but we’re afraid to vote that way.” But it’s easier for me, as a physician, to explain why I vote the way I do. I can look people in the eye and say, “I’ve been in an exam room with someone who has always opposed abortions, but suddenly when it’s their 14, 15, or 16-year-old daughter, they start second-guessing things.” I don’t try to guide them in one way or the other — it’s their decision to make, between them, their doctor and their God. And I resent the government stepping into that exam room and standing between me and the patient, and standing between the patient and the patient’s choices.
It’s interesting to me that the Republicans, we are a party of less government, except when it comes to women’s issues, then we become a party of more government interference.
You’re up for re-election this year. Are you worried about getting primary’d by a Tea Party opponent?
I’ll tell you, the Tea Party has done robocalls in my district, encouraging fellow Republicans to step up and run against me. To my knowledge, no one is willing to do that. The national Republican Party makes a huge issue of these contraceptive issues, and the general public are growing tired of it. They’re worried about the cost of paying their electric bill; making enough money to medically support their families; availability of jobs; worrying how they’re going to pay for healthcare.
I’ve been here 10 years and those are the things my constituents are worried about. They have never chastised me about my voting record on these women reproductive issues. It’s just pretty low on their radar. The sooner the national Republican Party realizes that, the more successful they’re going to be in the next national election.
I’ve seen you describe yourself as pro-life. Is that correct?
Well, yes. I’ve never done an abortion and never will. From a personal standpoint, I’m pro-life. On the other hand, people are humans. People make mistakes. And we all have our own personal lines, you know? To me, if you’re pregnant and you’re gonna terminate a pregnancy, you need to do that early on. In my mind, a 12-week pregnancy, if you haven’t made a decision by then, well now we’re getting up to where I start feeling uncomfortable. I’ve delivered 800 babies; that’s the thing I enjoy the most. But on the other hand, I’ve been in the room when people say, “My 14-year-old daughter is pregnant.’ And she may want to be a doctor or a lawyer. And the chances of her getting to do that are really gonna be slim. And doc, she made a mistake one night with a guy that has moved on down the road, and can you help me fix my problem.” I have sympathy for those people. And I will not do an abortion, but I will tell them, “Here’s a number and a place you can go if that’s what you guys decide to do.” At the same time, I’ll put out the idea if you want to carry it, you can put it up for adoption.
So do you consider yourself pro-choice as well?
I consider myself anti-government. I guess that would be pro-choice. Let the woman decide her own fate. She’s the one who has to live with her decision between her and her god or her and her family. And I don’t think the government has the right to step in. Now on the other hand, if she’s 30 weeks along, well then maybe the government does have some right to protect that unborn.