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How will Sam Brown’s new abortion stance affect Nevada’s Senate race?

After the GOP Senate front-runner said he opposed a national abortion ban, a position he hasn’t always held, Democrats said he was an anti-abortion extremist.
Eric Neugeboren
Eric Neugeboren
Gabby Birenbaum
Gabby Birenbaum
Election 2024

Editor’s note: These stories appear in Indy Elections, The Nevada Independent’s newsletter dedicated to comprehensive coverage of the 2024 elections. Sign up for the newsletter here.

Does Brown’s abortion interview matter?

Republican front-runner Sam Brown threw a curveball in Nevada’s Senate race last Wednesday when he revealed in an NBC interview that he would not support a federal abortion ban and respects Nevada’s current law protecting abortion up to 24 weeks.

Brown’s comments, which came in the context of an interview alongside his wife, Amy, who revealed she had an abortion before she met her husband, represents a new frontier for Republican Senate candidates — some of whom have similar “don’t rock the boat” on abortion comments if elected. 

And numerous GOP Senate candidates, including Brown, followed the lead of the National Republican Senatorial Committee in issuing statements in support of in-vitro fertilization (IVF) treatment after Alabama’s conservative Supreme Court ruled that frozen embryos have legal protections as children.

But Brown, in personalizing the issue via his wife’s story and urging more compassionate responses for women, took the abortion question to places few Republicans have been willing to go.

Doing so makes sense in a purple state such as Nevada where abortion has retained majority support and legal protection for decades.

In Republicans’ best-case scenario, Brown’s new abortion stance and defense of IVF will neutralize the issue in 2024, taking away the Democrats’ preferred campaign message. By taking abortion off the table, Brown could theoretically make the Senate race a referendum on an issue set more friendly to him — inflation, government spending and the border.


National and Nevada Democrats met Brown’s announcement with skepticism, noting that the candidate has not been consistent on the issue. 

In a 2014 run for the Texas Legislature, Brown said supporting the state’s 20-week ban was a “nonnegotiable” for him. In 2022, his campaign answered a questionnaire saying abortion should be banned in all cases except when the mother’s life is at risk — a survey he said was filled out by a staffer without authorization. As recently as September, he said in a statement that he was pro-life, which exceptions of rape, incest and cases where the mother’s life is at risk — a stance not necessarily incongruent with his latest pronouncement, but less specific about what he would be willing to support in Washington.

And of course, a national ban isn’t the only way abortion rights might be affected post-November — if Brown wins the nomination, he’ll likely be sharing a ticket with Trump, who reportedly supports a 16-week ban.

In the wake of the Alabama decision, Democrats also want voters to blame Trump and Republicans for the imperiling of reproductive rights beyond abortion. The Democratic National Committee is running billboard ads in Las Vegas and Reno in English and Spanish starting Tuesday morning with a photo of Trump and the message “Banning abortion, stopping IVF: Is Nevada next?”

While Brown is backed by national Republicans and has a massive fundraising advantage over his primary opponents, he still has to win in June against a host of candidates eager to outflank him on the right.

Jeff Gunter, a dermatologist and former Trump ambassador to Iceland, took to X to call Brown a “RINO,” or Republican in Name Only, telling voters that as a physician, he could provide “moral clarity” while accusing Brown of “racing to the left.”

Gunter had actually beat Brown to the punch in November, when he posted that he did not support a national abortion ban.

UNLV political science professor David Damore said he saw Brown’s interview as an effort to counter Democrats’ abortion messaging by staking out a more moderate position, buoyed by a personal story. But he said Brown might not be able to outrun people’s feelings about Republicans on abortion.

“I don't know if it'll much matter, because the broader party dynamic is gonna shape a lot of people's perceptions,” Damore said.

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker speaks during the Nevadans For Reproductive Freedom volunteer campaign kickoff rally at the College of Southern Nevada in North Las Vegas on Feb. 24, 2024. (Jeff Scheid/The Nevada Independent)

Democrats’ abortion offensive

In 2022 and fresh off the Supreme Court’s repeal of Roe v. Wade, Nevada Democrats rhetorically said that abortion was on the ballot. 

Now ahead of 2024, Democrats are now taking steps to make that literal.

On Saturday, Nevadans for Reproductive Freedom officially launched a ballot initiative that would enshrine abortion access in the state Constitution in a Las Vegas event briefly interrupted by anti-abortion demonstrators. The question has so far received more than 10,000 signatures, but it must receive at least 102,586 signatures by July 8 to qualify for the 2024 ballot. As a proposed constitutional initiative, it would need to pass again in 2026.

The effort has the backing of Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker, a Democrat and potential future presidential candidate, whose nonprofit poured $1 million into the initiative last year. He told The Nevada Independent in an interview that even though abortion is legal up to 24 weeks in Nevada via a ballot referendum that can only be overturned by another vote of the people, the Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade underscores the need for more protections.

“Even though it may be codified into state law, it's not in your Constitution, and it's important to make sure that women now and forever going forward, have their freedom protected,” Pritzker said.

At the same time, top Democrats in the state are teaming up with abortion rights groups to paint former President Donald Trump and Brown as extreme anti-abortion candidates.

Yet Democrats still need to convince voters that abortion remains a critical political issue. An October New York Times/Siena College poll found that more Nevadans think abortion should be legal than another Times/Siena poll taken a year earlier, but that fewer Nevadans viewed social issues, such as abortion, as most important to them. 

Pritzker said voters’ decisions are more nuanced than polls suggest.

 “[Voters] might say the economy is the most important issue and that abortion is second or third,  but when they're sitting there in the voting booth and making a decision, they're factoring in, ‘Does the candidate care passionately about something I care passionately about?’” Pritzker said.

Adriana Perro, 23, attended Tuesday’s event and said she thinks that people may be putting abortion access on the backburner now, making spreading the word on the issue necessary.

“Women are losing their rights every day,” she said.

This story was updated on 3/14/24 at 4:30 p.m. to correct the signature requirements for a question to be placed on the November ballot.


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