Ted Cruz has provoked anger from celebrities and social media users by tweeting in support of anti-vaccine basketball players with a slogan normally associated with abortion rights.
The Texas Republican senator used the hashtag #YourBodyYourChoice on Wednesday to back National Basketball Association (NBA) stars who reportedly refused their Covid shots, despite his state’s radical new anti-abortion laws.
The hashtag is traditionally used by women’s rights activists in support of abortion, but has been increasingly co-opted by anti-vaxxers and opponents of mandatory vaccination.
“I stand with Kyrie Irving. I stand with Andrew Wiggins. I stand with Bradley Beal. I stand with Jonathan Isaac. #YourBodyYourChoice,” Mr Cruz said. All have refused the vaccine or refused to say whether they will take it.
Film director and comedian Judd Apatow shot back: “So you believe in choice now? Are you going to fight for that? Oh, not for women. Got it.”
Former American football player turned broadcaster George Wrighster III said: “Keep this same #YourBodyYourChoice energy when it comes to women’s bodies.”
Comedy host Samantha Bee, music producer Thelonious Martin, former footballer Shannon Sharpe, and numerous other Twitter users joined the attack, as did Democratic activists such as Nancy Pelosi’s daughter Christine Pelosi and social media influencer Majid Padellan, known as Brooklyn Dad Defiant.
"Ted Cruz is pro-choice?" asked Ms Bee sarcastically. "When you and this dude are on the same side, please rethink your position," said MSNBC host Tiffany D Cross.
Around 90 per cent of NBA players have been vaccinated, while those who refuse could lose millions of dollars in missed salary due to local laws in cities such as New York and San Francisco that ban unvaccinated people from indoor sports events.
According to The Hill, Mr Irving and Mr Wiggins have declined to reveal their vaccine status, with the former reportedly liking conspiracy theory posts on Instagram and latter applying for but being denied a religious exemption.
Mr Beal and Mr Isaac have publicly criticised Covid-19 vaccines and questioned their effectiveness, leading to backlash from other players such as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Natasha Cloud.
Mr Cruz has a history of using Twitter to rile up his opponents, mimicking the strategy of former president Donald Trump by treating all outrage and mockery as a net boon.
In January, the high-flying Princeton and Harvard Law School graduate, who once clerked for Supreme Court justice William Rehnquist, claimed that President Biden’s decision to rejoin the Paris climate agreement showed he was “more interested in the views of the citizens of Paris than in the jobs of the citizens of Pittsburgh”, despite probably knowing that the treaty was merely signed in Paris without any particular input from Parisians.
Texas' Republican-controlled legislature has banned all abortions after six weeks of pregnancy, giving citizens the right to sue any doctor who performs one. Around 60 per cent of abortions in the state happen after that point, according to federal health data, and many people do not realise they are pregnant until later.
When the bill took effect on 1 September, Mr Cruz did not mention it at all in his tweets that day, despite being a prolific Twitter user. The next day his office issued a statement saying he was "proud that Texas is leading the charge to defend life".
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