Republican U.S. Senatorial candidate Sam Brown joins his wife Amy...

Republican U.S. Senatorial candidate Sam Brown joins his wife Amy Brown after speaking to a small group of supporters and media after filing his paperwork to run for the Senate, Thursday, March 14, 2024, at the State Capitol in Carson City, Nev. Brown is seeking to replace incumbent U.S. Sen. Jacky Rosen. Credit: AP/Andy Barron

RENO, Nev. — Last month, when the wife of a Republican U.S. Senate candidate from Nevada talked candidly about the abortion she had before the two met — and the long journey of regret and healing that followed — many Republicans welcomed it as a more compassionate approach to an issue that has hurt GOP candidates at the ballot box.

But with Democrats nationally eying abortion rights as key to their prospects in the November election, from the presidency all the way down the ballot, Sam Brown's evolving tone on abortion, particularly in choosing to publicly revisit his wife Amy’s story and oppose a national abortion ban, hints at just how complicated the fight over abortion rights could become for GOP candidates this fall.

In Nevada, the Browns’ story could be a factor in a competitive June 11 primary for a seat that Republicans view as a pivotal pickup opportunity. It also shows how abortion could be decisive in determining which party controls the U.S. Senate, where Democrats now hold a 51-49 majority but have many more seats on the line this year.

Some Nevada Republicans say the story demonstrates Brown’s deeper understanding of the complexities of reproductive healthcare in a state where voters guaranteed the right to abortion through a referendum. They also hope it illuminates a gray area that many Republican women feel extends beyond “yes” or “no” answers on abortion rights.

“I really resent people immediately putting all Republicans in one big basket,” said Pauline Ng Lee, president of the Nevada Republican Club.

She said Nevada Republicans have no desire to overturn the state’s existing protections, unlike in Republican-led states like Texas and South Carolina. She also hopes the Browns’ announcement helps move abortion access, largely a winning issue for Democrats, “off the table” in the Senate race.

Brown, sitting beside his wife, Amy, as she told her story to NBC News, used the moment to lay out his position that questions about abortion are best left to the states. If elected to the Senate, he said, he would oppose a federal abortion ban while supporting Nevada's current law that protects the right to an abortion up to 24 weeks — roughly the standard nationally when Roe v. Wade was in effect.

Republican U.S. Senatorial candidate Sam Brown talks with supporter as...

Republican U.S. Senatorial candidate Sam Brown talks with supporter as he arrives to files his paperwork to run for the Senate, Thursday, March 14, 2024, at the State Capitol in Carson City, Nev. Brown is seeking to replace incumbent U.S. Sen. Jacky Rosen. Credit: AP/Andy Barron

Brown also called for more compassion, support and education for women who are faced with difficult decisions — a plea he said was largely informed by his wife’s experience in Texas as a woman in her 20s, 16 years ago.

But Brown, now locked in a crowded contest in Nevada's GOP Senate primary in June, never said how he reconciles the tension between the story that helped inspire his policy stance and its implications in today’s landscape. When left to the states, women in Texas facing the same circumstances today would not have the options his wife had in the state in 2008.

In Texas, where the two met and lived before Nevada, nearly all abortions are banned, with narrow exceptions. Similar bans at all stages of pregnancy have been enacted in 14 Republican-led states since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the constitutional right to abortion almost two years ago.

This is not the first time Sam Brown has adjusted his tone on abortion rights, a topic he often dodged before the interview last month. In July 2021, his campaign website declared it was “in our American interest that we protect the lives of unborn babies just as we would protect the life of any other American.”

Republican U.S. Senatorial candidate Sam Brown speaks after filing his...

Republican U.S. Senatorial candidate Sam Brown speaks after filing his paperwork to run for the Senate, Thursday, March 14, 2024, at the State Capitol in Carson City, Nev. Brown is seeking to replace incumbent U.S. Sen. Jacky Rosen. Credit: AP/Andy Barron

But that unequivocal stand has since been removed.

Democratic Sen. Jacky Rosen, the incumbent Brown is hoping to unseat, repeatedly references Brown's support for Texas’ 20-week abortion ban while running for a seat in the Texas Legislature in 2014. The ban did not include exceptions for rape or the mother's health — exceptions Brown told NBC he would support.

Rosen's campaign points specifically to a questionnaire from Brown’s 2022 Senate run in Nevada, where his campaign said abortion should be banned in all cases except when a mother’s life is at risk. Brown's campaign said a staffer created the questionnaire without authorization.

And in a 2022 primary Senate debate against former Nevada Attorney General Adam Laxalt, he maintained that abortion should be left to the states, but added, “if there was any sort of legislation that would come forward, I would want to see that specific language."

On his website, Brown maintains he is “personally pro-life" and would work to confirm judges “who understand the importance of protecting life.” He is against federal funding for abortion, late-term abortions and abortions without parental consent.

Brown's campaign declined an interview request from The Associated Press, saying the NBC interview was difficult for him and his wife. He did not respond to a question asking what he would say to women in the same position that Amy was in years ago in Texas, where an abortion can now lead to a felony charge.

His view, he said in a statement, has been shaped not only by Amy's difficult decision but his own experience of nearly being killed by a roadside bomb in Afghanistan. Both occurred shortly before they met in a San Antonio medical center where she was working as an Army dietitian.

“Amy and I met each other in the darkest moments of our lives, but we found the light within each other. We found our strength and renewed outlooks on life through Christ, prayer, and relying on each other,” he said in the statement. “I have consistently stated that this issue should be decided at the state level, and the people of Nevada have made their decision.”

Rebecca Gill, an associate professor of political science at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, said Brown's recalibrated stance sounded like an example of a politician “fishing out some ideas, and seeing if there’s anything that doesn’t cost them votes.”

“It definitely gives you the impression that they have some empathy about this situation and that they don’t want to be the ones to substitute their beliefs about this for the judgment of the person who’s pregnant,” Gill said. “But they’re willing to let other people substitute their beliefs for the judgment of the people who are pregnant.”

Lindsey Harmon, a spokesperson for Planned Parenthood Nevada, which has endorsed the Democrat Rosen, said she doesn't believe Brown would keep his promise to oppose a national ban. She added that “we were called hysterical” when sounding the alarm during Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearing to the Supreme Court that Roe v. Wade could be overturned.

But some Republicans felt a personal connection to Amy Brown’s story and said they hoped it moved a complicated conversation along.

Republican Assemblywoman Danielle Gallant often avoids her own personal experiences when talking with colleagues in Nevada's capital of Carson City — like the unplanned pregnancy she decided to see through in 2020, or how that pregnancy ended in a miscarriage during a home birth that nearly ended her life.

She doesn’t think the labels “pro-choice” and “pro-life” do justice to her feelings about abortion. She’s agitated both by Republican men who portray women who receive abortions as “just using it as birth control” and Democrats who refuse to acknowledge the bond a woman can have with a fetus.

Gallant said she felt relief that Amy Brown shared her story and that Sam Brown's stance on a national abortion ban aligns him with a majority of Republican women in Nevada who are somewhere in the middle on abortion but often don't speak up.

Gallant, who voted with her party against strengthening Nevada's existing abortion protections, also hopes the Browns' announcement helps neutralize the issue in his bid to topple Rosen.

“There is no home for where I stand on abortion, politically,” she said. “Because personally, I have been challenged. And I tested my belief and stuck to my belief. But I don’t believe that I should be telling somebody else how to make their choices.”

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AP writer Adriana Gomez Licon contributed reporting from Miami.

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