Republican incumbent Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin has a long record of opposition to abortion rights.
Republican Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, a longtime opponent of abortion rights, is in a close reelection race against the state’s Democratic Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes, who supports the right to abortion care.
Endorsed by NARAL Pro-choice America, Barnes has pledged to protect reproductive rights, saying that if elected he would vote to pass the Women’s Health Protection Act and to make contraception free and widely accessible.
“Any politician who believes they have the right to make decisions about women’s bodies is dead wrong,” Barnes says in a campaign ad. “And if they believe that, they don’t deserve your vote. They don’t deserve your consideration, they don’t deserve your time and they do not deserve their seat in office.”
Johnson, who was elected to the Senate in 2010, currently says on his campaign website that he supports exceptions to abortion bans in cases of rape, incest, or danger to the life of the pregnant patient.
However, in the past he has supported bans with no exceptions.
In 2011, during his first year in the Senate, Johnson was a co-sponsor of a personhood bill that declared, “The terms ‘human person’ and ‘human being’ include each and every member of the species homo sapiens at all stages of life, including, but not limited to, the moment of fertilization, cloning, and other moment at which an individual member of the human species comes into being.”
Asked in 2012 if he supports such a definition of “personhood,” Johnson said he believes life begins at conception: “I believe it does. I mean, it’s somewhat irrefutable. Again, the question is, at what point do we protect that life? I believe it should be protected immediately.”
Johnson has co-sponsored a national ban on abortion at 20 weeks’ gestation introduced by South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham six times, in 2013, 2015, 2017, 2018, 2019 and 2021. The bill has not passed so far.
Johnson said in 2018 that he believes abortion rights should be left to individual states and that there should be “reasonable limits” on them: “At some point in time, I think the rights enumerated in our Declaration of Independence — the life, liberty and pursuit of happiness — ought to cover a child in the womb. … This has been a wound to our body politic for decades as a result.”
Johnson has joined other members of Congress in amicus briefs in support of lawsuits aimed at restricting abortion rights: in 2020 in June Medical Services, L.L.C. v. Gee; and in 2021 in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization as the Supreme Court considered the constitutionality of Mississippi’s 15-week abortion ban. In Dobbs, Johnson joined other Republican senators in urging the court to uphold the ban, which held no exceptions for pregnancies resulting from rape or incest. The court decision in Dobbs in June reversed its 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade that had affirmed a constitutional right to abortion.
On Oct. 4, Republican legislative leaders in Wisconsin, which has no provisions for voters or legislators to put issues into ballot initiatives, blocked a special session called by Democratic Gov. Tony Evers to discuss allowing such initiatives. Afterwards, Johnson, who told voters in Milwaukee that he supports a “one-time, single-issue referendum to decide the question” of abortion, released a sample question on Wisconsin’s ban that could be used for such a referendum question.
The wording of the question made it clear that Johnson considers discussions about abortion rights to be about when to “protect the life of an unborn child.” It simply listed a choice of gestation periods during which such protection should be required. It said nothing about exceptions.
Wisconsin Public Radio reported on Oct. 5 that a spokesperson for Johnson’s campaign refused to respond to a question about whether Johnson would include exceptions in cases of rape or incest in such a referendum question.
Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.