BOSTON -- U.S. Sen. Scott Brown is trying to reinforce his image as strong supporter of abortion rights -- a message that’s being potentially undercut by advocates on both sides of the issue.
After Republican Senate candidate Todd Akin claimed women’s bodies can prevent pregnancies in cases of what he called "legitimate rape," Brown immediately called for him to drop out of the race, calling the remark "outrageous." Akin later apologized and said he misspoke.
Brown followed up with a letter to Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus, saying Republicans should accept differing points of view on abortion.
Speaking to reporters Wednesday, Brown again described himself as a "pro-choice" Republican and pledged to never vote in the Senate to curb women’s reproductive rights. "I have a long record of this already," he said.
Massachusetts Citizens for Life, the state’s largest anti-abortion group, is supporting Brown in the election. President Anne Fox said the group is siding with Brown because his views on abortion are more moderate than those of his opponent, Democrat Elizabeth Warren.
"We have a situation where she’s trying to make Scott Brown seem extreme when he takes positions that are very mainstream and she takes the extreme position," Fox said.
During the 2010 special Senate election that Brown won, the group’s political action committee was more explicitly supportive.
"Our PAC has been supporting Scott Brown because he will be a pro-life vote in the Senate. Scott Brown will also vote against the health care bill," Jack Rowe of the Massachusetts Citizens for Life Political Action Committee wrote in 2010. The PAC ended up spending more than $21,500 in support of Brown’s election, most of it on fliers and radio ads.
Brown has also been criticized by abortion rights groups this week.
NARAL Pro-Choice Massachusetts Executive Director Megan Amundson said Brown "voted pro-choice" just once out of five times when issues related to abortion came up for a vote in the Senate.
"Scott Brown should not be allowed to claim the mantle of pro-choice and supporter of women’s health care choices when his voting record is in line with anti-choice senators and anti-choice organizations like the Massachusetts Citizens for Life," Amundson said.
Brown, however, has also won kudos from NARAL Pro-Choice Massa chusetts, which praised a vote he took in 2011 when he broke with his party in rejecting Republican calls to strip federal funding for Planned Parenthood.
Other groups like Emily’s List, which is dedicated to electing Democratic women who support abortion rights, described his voting record as "anti-choice." Emily’s List is backing Warren and has helped raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for her campaign.
A spokeswoman for Warren said she supports reproductive rights consistent with Roe v. Wade.
Abortion rights critics of Brown point to other votes, including his decision earlier this year to support the amendment that would have let employers deny health care coverage for services they say violate their moral or religious beliefs, including birth control.
They also point to an amendment he supported in 2005 that would have allowed emergency room doctors in Massachusetts to deny emergency contraception to rape victims based on the doctor’s religious beliefs.
Brown also co-sponsored as a state lawmaker the "Women’s Right to Know Act," which requires a woman to wait 24 hours before having an abortion. During the 2010 election, he said he supported parental consent requirements and opposed so-called partial birth abortion.
Brown’s campaign countered by offering testimonials from former Republican Gov. William Weld and Lt. Gov. Kerry Healey
"Scott Brown has a consistent pro-choice voting record," Weld said in a statement. "He has been vocal about the need to have a big-tent Republican Party that welcomes people on both sides of this difficult issue."
Brown said he’s planning to let his letter speak for itself instead.
"I’m only there for Thursday. I have obviously a race to run. I have a job to do," Brown said Wednesday.
"They know my position. It’s up to others now to join forces, the Olympia Snowes and (Susan) Collinses and others," he added, referring to Maine Republican Sens. Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe.