Fri. Jul 19th, 2024

Amy Brown, wife of GOP Senate candidate Sam Brown, opens up about her abortion for the first time publicly

By 37ci3 Feb22,2024

HENDERSON, Nev. — Amy Brown was a single, ambitious 24-year-old in 2008, a time when she felt invincible. 

She was striving to become an Army dietician while stationed at a San Antonio medical center and was on the cusp of completing an internship to land a full-time job. That’s when she found out something that turned her world upside down: She was pregnant. 

She didn’t want to believe it. 

She initially panicked, then felt racked with guilt and fear of disappointing others because of the unplanned pregnancy, despite using birth control. She went to two health providers. All along, she felt that the forces in her life — from the people around her, including in her medical visits, to her own fears that she would close off parts of her future — pressed her toward terminating the pregnancy. 

“I just felt this immense amount of pressure that I had to do it. I felt all alone. I felt really overwhelmed, and I also felt a lot of shame,” said a tearful Amy Brown, the wife of Nevada Senate GOP candidate Sam Brown, in an exclusive sit-down interview with NBC News. “In that moment, I felt like my back was against a wall, and the walls were closing in, and I had one door out — and so I pursued that door.” 

At 5 ½ weeks pregnant, Amy Brown had an abortion. It would set off a yearslong journey of anguish and healing, an experience she said helped her feel for women who have unwanted pregnancies and for those who have had an abortion and may be struggling with the emotional aftermath.

“I got to a very dark place and I remember being in my room and crying out: ‘God help me,’” she said. 

She had to return to work the Monday after the abortion, trying to bury what had just happened. That’s when she saw a severely injured patient who was intubated in the facility’s burn unit. 

He would be her future husband. 

Capt. Sam Brown with his wife, Capt. Amy Brown, inside Camp Victory's Al Faw Palace.
Capt. Sam Brown with his wife, Capt. Amy Brown, inside Camp Victory’s Al Faw Palace. U.S. Army

For over 80 minutes, in an extraordinary and emotional revelation from the wife of a Republican candidate for elected office, Amy and Sam Brown talked extensively to NBC News about her experience of having an abortion. 

It’s the first time she’s ever discussed it with the media, and the interview included how it shaped their positions and how Sam views the issue as he’s the leading Republican candidate in one of the most competitive Senate races in the country. 

The two sat side by side in a suburb outside of Las Vegas, and Amy paused at times to wipe away or swallow back tears. At other moments she helped Sam dab perspiration off his face — something he can’t feel because of the many skin grafts he’s undergone.

“I’m sharing my story today so that I can provide awareness for what it’s like to live in my shoes, for women who have chosen to have abortions. And also just to provide awareness to women … that they can take a break, they can take a minute, they can process and hopefully know that they have options,” Amy said. “My healing process was a long one … but part of that healing came from hearing the stories from other women.”

As Republicans look toward November and seek to claim the White House and the Senate majority, they’re increasingly recognizing that abortion has become a political liability and that they need to change the way they talk about the issue. After Roe v. Wade fell in 2022, the GOP suffered unexpected losses across the map, despite Republicans widely predicting a red wave. Individual states, including Texas, moved to enact stringent anti-abortion stances even as abortion rights protections have been popular with voters, even in conservative states

In the battleground state of Nevada, abortion is a recurring and prominent issue, as Republicans at times have strayed from the party line in light of the strong support for abortion rights in the state. Abortion has dominated early headlines in the Senate race, with Democrats already launching criticisms of Brown on the topic, even though the general election has yet to begin. 

A protester holds a sign that reads, " Bans off our bodies" during a march.
Abortion rights activists in Las Vegas protest the overturning of Roe v. Wade in 2022.Ronda Churchill / AFP – Getty Images file

GOP presidential contender Nikki Haley has campaigned with the message that opponents and supporters of abortion rights should try to find some common ground and has urged her party not to demonize women in their messaging. Likewise, Democrats are leaning into abortion, knowing it has worked as an attack in a post-Roe world.

In the interview, Sam Brown embraced Nevada’s state law allowing abortion up to 24 weeks and said states should be allowed to set their own standards, which ranges from strong support for abortion rights to extremely strict laws against it. He said he supported exceptions for rape, incest and the life and health of a mother. He also said he would “close the door” on supporting a federal abortion ban, saying it should be a state issue. 

The Browns said they would follow the will of the people in the state, but thought it was important to explain how they came to form their personal beliefs. 

Scars you can and cannot see

In 2008, Amy met Sam — an Army captain and Purple Heart recipient — at the medical center where he was recovering from injuries he suffered in Afghanistan. She worked as a dietician, and he was one of her patients. 

Amy said she had heard about Sam’s story even before getting to know him. 

It is a dramatic and harrowing tale. While serving in Afghanistan, Sam’s unit had run over an explosive device on the side of the road, setting ablaze their Humvee. Soaked in diesel, flames consumed Sam, and he fought unsuccessfully to tamp them out. On fire, he dropped to his knees and screamed, “Jesus save me!” 

He wondered how long it would take to burn to death, thought about the transition from this life to the next and gave up the will to live. Just then, he heard the voice of one of his soldiers: “Sir, I’ve got you.” It was a gunner who began throwing sand on Sam to extinguish the flames. Sam, a West Point graduate who is now retired from the military, said he felt he was given a second chance at life.

Amy was taken aback by Sam’s emotional recovery and his deep faith. In some ways, she was envious. 

Capt. Sam Brown hugs his wife, Capt. Amy Brown, after arriving in Baghdad to take part in Operation Proper Exit.
Capt. Sam Brown hugs his wife, Capt. Amy Brown, after arriving in Baghdad to take part in Operation Proper Exit. U.S. Army
Capt. Amy Brown, a dietitian, listens as her husband, Capt. Sam Brown, tells the story of his injury while visiting Camp Ramadi, Iraq, in 2009.
Capt. Amy Brown, a dietitian, listens as her husband, Capt. Sam Brown, tells the story of his injury while visiting Camp Ramadi, Iraq, in 2009.Spc. Michael J MacLeod / U.S. Army

“He was facing this major trauma in his life, and he was disfigured as a 24-year-old. He had scars on his face and over his body,” Amy said. “But yet he had joy and he had this comfort with who he was, and this confidence.” 

“I remember looking at him and almost being jealous of his scars because they were external,” she added. “He had to process them, and he had become very comfortable with them. And he was just doing exceptionally well. Whereas with me, there was this contrast, like the world would think that I had my life put together and that I was doing really well. But I had so many scars on the inside, and I just didn’t even know what to do with them.”

As they grew closer and began to date (she stopped being his dietician), she confided in Sam about the abortion and said she felt no judgment. 

“I could tell that Sam understood that this hurt, and that it was a very difficult decision, and that it was one that I regretted,” she said. Amy said she initially thought that having an abortion would bring her “freedom” but she instead was filled with remorse over the decision and wished she would have considered other options. “I could tell that he got it and that he felt my pain.”

Nevada’s critical role in Senate control

Today, Amy, 39, and Sam, 40, have three children and live in the Reno area, where Amy homeschools the kids. The couple moved from Texas to Nevada in 2018. The Browns said while they support limits to abortion, they do not judge women on what they choose to do. 

Their decision to take their story public comes in advance of Nevada’s June 11 GOP Senate primary, where Sam is competing against seven others but is the polling and fundraising front-runner and backed by the National Republican Senatorial Committee. The winner will face off against Sen. Jacky Rosen, who is considered one of the most vulnerable Democrats in the Senate, as Democrats defend their slim majority. 

The Democrats’ Senate Majority PAC has announced $36 million in ads to protect Rosen’s seat, and they are already targeting Brown, including for his stance on abortion. It is Brown’s third time running for public office; he ran for Senate in 2022 but lost in the Republican primary to Adam Laxalt, and in 2014, he ran unsuccessfully for the Texas state legislature.

In Nevada exit polls in 2022, according to NBC News data, 28% of those who voted cited abortion as their top issue. Abortion was second only to inflation, with 36% of Nevada voters saying it was their top issue. The survey showed 67% of all Nevada voters thought abortion should be legal, 36% said it should be legal in all cases and 32% said it should be in most cases. 

Sam Brown and his wife with their three children.
Nevada Republican U.S. Senate candidate Sam Brown and his wife, Amy, cast their ballots at Reno High School in 2022. Tom R. Smedes / AP file

A different story in Texas

Though Amy had access to an abortion in Texas in 2008, today it could very well be considered a felony in the state. After the U.S. Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision struck down Roe v. Wade in 2022, Texas outlawed abortion from the moment of fertilization. 

Asked whether there was some part of her that was thankful she still had a choice in Texas at the time, Amy said: “Looking back, it’s very easy to have opinions. And then when you experience something that just gives you a much deeper understanding about what that is, and having experienced what I did — and having a more full picture — I feel like I wished I would have made a different decision.” 

Sam said he’s learned from his wife’s experience how much she needed support before and after the abortion.  

“We’ve got to lead with compassion. And this is not just a policy issue,” he said. “We’re talking about people’s lives. I would love to see the conversation take that into account a lot more.”

But Sam didn’t answer the question head on about what he would say to women who didn’t have a choice in their states after Roe v. Wade’s reversal triggered more restrictive laws.

Asked about the Kate Cox case in Texas — in which the mother of two was denied an abortion even though her fetus was diagnosed with a fatal condition and continuing the pregnancy could hurt her future fertility — Brown said his “heart breaks” for her and her family and said exceptions should be allowed in such cases. 

“I don’t know all the details around her and her family’s situation,” Brown said of the Cox family. “But we need to have empathy and understand that there are complicated and tough circumstances, and that women do need to have access to an abortion for cases of medical emergencies.”

Amy Brown
“I got to a very dark place and I remember being in my room and crying out: ‘God help me,’” Amy Brown said.Alex Tabet / NBC News

‘I close the door’ on a federal abortion ban

In a 2022 GOP Senate primary debate against Laxalt — the election Sam would lose — he initially seemed noncommittal on where he stood on a possible federal abortion ban. 

“This is something as it stands that would be currently left to the states,” he said then. “But once again, I am pro-life, and if there were any sort of legislation that would come forward, I’d want to see that specific language.” 

When asked about that statement and whether he was leaving the door open to a federal abortion ban, Sam told NBC News: “I close the door. I’m not going to support a federal abortion ban.” 

He maintained he would not budge on that stance even if Republicans won the Senate chamber and put forward a bill establishing a national ban. Sam even said that at a recent event, he told Sen. Lindsey Graham, the South Carolina Republican who has proposed a national 15-week abortion ban, that if he were elected to the Senate and Graham again proposed a national abortion ban, he could not count on Sam for a vote. Graham’s office did not respond to a request for comment. 

While he says he is “personally pro-life,” Sam insists he is committed to respecting Nevada’s law that allows abortion up to 24 weeks. Asked about a previous statement he made supporting a 20-week ban in Texas during his unsuccessful 2014 state legislative run, he said that he supported that state’s right to make the decision and that it would not apply to Nevada. That Texas law, passed in 2013, allowed for some exceptions but not in cases of rape or incest. His campaign said Brown now personally believes in exceptions for rape and incest as well as life and health of a mother and would have wanted those provisions added.

He is opposed to the federal funding of abortions, late-term abortions and abortions without parental notification.  

“As someone who’s striving to represent Nevada in the U.S. Senate, Nevadans also need to know, voters need to know here, that I’m not in a position to — nor do I want to — do anything that changes our existing law,” Sam said. “I cannot change it. I will not change it. I respect the law that the voters put in place over 30 years ago that grants access for women up to 24 weeks.”

In 1990, Nevadans in a state referendum codified abortion protections up to 24 weeks. That law cannot change unless there’s another referendum and voters choose to overturn it. 

Nevada Gov. Joe Lombardo, a Republican, often cited the inability to reverse that law when he ran in 2022, ousting Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak. At the same time, Laxalt narrowly lost to Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, whose campaign attacked Laxalt on abortion, seeing it as a vulnerability. In the closing months of the campaign, Cortez Masto’s internal data showed a significant portion of the electorate didn’t know Laxalt’s position on abortion, though voters were reporting it as an animating issue. 

Sam Brown
While he says he is “personally pro-life,” Sam insists he is committed to respecting Nevada’s law that allows abortion up to 24 weeks. Alex Tabet / NBC News

Democrats have hammered Sam on abortion, including by saying he doesn’t support exceptions to abortion restrictions in cases of rape and incest and criticizing him for previously leaving the door open to supporting a federal abortion ban. The Brown campaign says they are a mischaracterization of his stances. Brown has said he is in favor of exceptions and opposes a federal ban, including in the interview with NBC News. 

Democrats on Wednesday took issue with Brown’s portrayal of his views on abortion, saying he is attempting to whitewash a record opposing abortion rights, including his support for Roe v. Wade’s reversal and for conservative judges who could play a role in shaping abortion law.

They contend Brown is now softening his abortion stance because he sees the writing on the wall in Nevada, should he advance to the general election.

“Brown’s anti-abortion agenda is both dangerous for women and unpopular with voters, and he is only trying to lie about his actual record now because it’s an election year,” Johanna Warshaw, Rosen’s spokesperson, said. “The truth is that Brown is a direct threat to Nevadans’ reproductive freedom, and he cannot be trusted to protect abortion rights in the Senate.”

After initially saying he wouldn’t endorse in the presidential primary, Sam in January backed Donald Trump for president and recently attended his Las Vegas rally. He said he didn’t see the former president as problematic at the top of the ticket in Nevada when it came to the abortion issue — even though Trump chose the three justices who helped overturn Roe v. Wade. 

“I haven’t seen that being a challenge,” he said. “I think Donald Trump has got a track record on things that I hear voters talk a lot about, which is our border crisis. … I hear people talking about how tough it is right now to make ends meet.”  

In the end, Sam said he didn’t think abortion should play an outsize role in the race because Nevada’s law is settled. 

“The law is stable and it’s not going anywhere,” he said. “But I have seen and I expect that some people will try to use falsehoods and fear to make it an issue that probably in reality shouldn’t be used as a wedge issue.”  

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