Ron Johnson admits he wants national abortion restrictions that go beyond state laws

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The Wisconsin Republican senator laid out a confusing and contradictory plan to roll back abortion rights nationally.

Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) suggested Tuesday that after states decide what sort of abortion restrictions to adopt, Congress should add national restrictions.

After a campaign appearance in Germantown, Wisconsin, the Washington County Daily News asked Johnson — who believes "life begins at the moment of conception" — about the recent election in Kansas, where voters decisively rejected a proposed constitutional amendment restricting abortion rights.

Rather than acknowledge the Kansas decision, however, Johnson discussed ways to further restrict abortion rights.

In a somewhat self-contradictory response, Johnson praised the July Supreme Court ruling overturning Roe v. Wade and said that states should make their own laws governing abortion — while hinting that Congress could eventually override them.

Completely agree with the decision. It's been 50 years since the Supreme Court, nine justices, made this decision for all Americans, which of course didn't solve the problem, it exacerbated the divide. So, I look forward to every state, the people in every state, hopefully having a serious, compassionate, and sympathetic discussion to decide this question, and this is what needs to be decided. At what point does society have the responsibility to protect life? That's the question on the table. I don't think nine justices should decide it. I don't think 535 members of Congress should decide it. I think it should be decided by the people, state-by-state. Maybe sometime in the future, you know, maybe Congress can take a look at what the states have done and say, 'We probably ought to place this limit here,' based on new information or whatever.

Asked about the comments on Wednesday, a Johnson spokesperson said in an email that "no where does he talk about a national abortion ban" and said that Johnson "emphasizes this is on each state to decide and the people through their elected representatives."

Pressed about what sort of national rules Johnson does back, the spokesperson pointed to his previous record.

In his first run for Senate in 2010, Johnson said on his website that he was committed to "preserving Wisconsin values," promising to support a "culture of life."

Johnson has subsequently backed a ban on nearly all abortions and promoted anti-abortion "crisis pregnancy centers" which manipulate people with deceptive and dishonest tactics.

"It might be a little messy for some people, but abortion is not going away," Johnson predicted in May, before the Supreme Court's ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health. "I just don't think this is going to be the big political issue everybody thinks it is, because it's not going to be that big a change."

He also noted that while Wisconsin has an archaic 1849 abortion ban on the books that offers almost no exceptions, his constituents could just drive to a neighboring state if they wanted to end their pregnancy.

Following the Supreme Court's July decision, Johnson posted a lengthy explanation of his abortion positions on his "Just The Truth" campaign site.

He noted that he had backed federal abortion bans but that he thinks states should get to determine what sort of bans to adopt.

I believe society has a responsibility to protect life at some point in the womb. As a U.S. Senator, I have voted in favor of protecting life after 20 weeks (5 months). I also signed an amicus brief supporting Dobbs in overturning Roe, and also in protecting life after 15 weeks (~4 months). I personally believe life begins at the moment of conception, but I fully support allowing the democratic process in each state to decide at what point society should protect that life. This is the profound moral question that must weigh the interests and rights of the mother against the interests and rights of the unborn child within her.

Polling shows that Johnson's position is well out of the mainstream among Wisconsin voters.

A June poll conducted by Marquette University Law School found that 58% of the state's adults back abortion rights in "all" or "most cases," while 35% say abortion should be illegal most or all of the time.

"There has been little change among preferences in abortion policy in recent years," the pollster noted while highlighting a small uptick in the percentage of people saying abortion should be legal in all cases.

Johnson, whose own approval rating hovers at around 35%, is facing an uphill battle for reelection this November.

Wisconsin Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes, the Democratic nominee, has been endorsed by NARAL Pro-Choice America and Planned Parenthood Action Fund.

Barnes responded to Johnson's comments in a statement Wednesday.

"Ron Johnson's disregard for the rights and freedoms of Wisconsin women is disqualifying," Barnes said. "We deserve elected leaders who will go to the mat to protect our freedoms, but instead Ron Johnson is putting women and doctors at risk by supporting a federal abortion ban. He is dangerously out of touch with Wisconsinites and it's time to send him packing."

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.