Oklahoma state Rep. Doug Cox is an anomaly, and he knows it. As a self-identified pro-life Republican in a deep red state, Cox makes for an unlikely ally in the reproductive rights movement. But that hasn't stopped him from being an outspoken critic of his colleagues' efforts to scale back access to contraception and abortion services. In a letter to his fellow Republicans, Cox admonished the modern GOP for its fixation on controlling women's bodies. Writing in response to a proposal to ban Medicaid coverage for emergency contraception and allow pharmacists to refuse to fill prescriptions for birth control, Cox asked, "What happened to the Republican Party that I joined? The party where conservative presidential candidate Barry Goldwater felt women should have the right to control their own destiny?" On the House floor this week, Cox blasted his colleagues for pushing Texas-style restrictions on providers and regulations around emergency contraception that he called "prejudiced against women."
In a striking piece published in The Oklahoman last May, Cox made an impassioned argument against his own party's culture-war agenda. "What happened to the Republican Party that I joined?" he asked, adding, "What happened to the Republican Party that felt that the government has no business being in an exam room, standing between me and my patient? Where did the party go that felt some decisions in a woman's life should be made not by legislators and government, but rather by the women, her conscience, her doctor and her God?"
A year later, as Katie McDonough reported yesterday, Cox's frustrations haven't faded.
Among other things, policymakers in Oklahoma are considering new regulations on abortion clinics and new restrictions on contraception access. By all appearances, the measures are likely to pass.
I am curious, though, why Cox seems surprised.
To reiterate a piece from last May, I'm sympathetic to Cox's concerns about his party's culture-war agenda, but when he asks, "What happened to the Republican Party that I joined?" it sounds as if the GOP has suddenly taken a far-right turn on social issues.
But the Republican Party that Cox joined changed its posture on social issues quite a while ago.
The point isn't that Cox is wrong on the merits. On the contrary, it's heartening to hear from a red-state Republican who's uncomfortable with the GOP's culture-war agenda as it relates to reproductive rights. Rather, it seems a little late in the game for a state representative to wonder aloud "what happened" to the Republican Party that adopted its far-right positions years ago.