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Republican U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson on Monday renewed his call for a statewide vote in Wisconsin on abortion rights, saying he thought most voters would support a ban after 12 weeks of pregnancy. Johnson declined to say how he would vote, however.
Johnson won reelection to a third term in November, one of only two Republicans to win statewide in Wisconsin since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion. Johnson said Monday at the Milwaukee Press Club that abortion has been an “important factor” in Democrats’ recent wins.
During the campaign, after the Supreme Court’s ruling, Johnson called for a statewide referendum on abortion. He wanted the question framed as: “At what point does society have the responsibility to protect the life of an unborn child?” The options would range from the moment of conception to never.
Wisconsin law does not allow for citizens to place such a question on the ballot. The Republican-controlled Legislature can only put forward amendments to the state constitution for a vote, not law changes. Democratic Gov. Tony Evers asked the Legislature to amend the constitution to allow for citizens to bring forth ballot questions to change state law, but Republicans rejected it.
When asked on Monday by press club panelist and Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reporter Bill Glauber how he would vote on the abortion question, Johnson responded, “It’s all a secret ballot, Bill.”
“I’m not trying to dodge a question here,” Johnson continued. “I’m trying to provide leadership in terms of how we can finally put this very divisive, profound moral issue behind us as a society. Let the people decide. I don’t want to impose my view on anybody else.”
Johnson said if voters were provided images with “what a little baby looks like inside the womb at 8, 10, 12 weeks,” he does not think they would support abortions past 12 weeks.
Before the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in June, Wisconsin law allowed for abortions for any reason up to 20 weeks of pregnancy.
A Marquette University Law School poll from September found that about 68% of respondents said abortion should be legal in all or most cases. Additionally, about 61% opposed the overturning of Roe v. Wade.
Johnson last year supported a bill that would have banned abortions nationwide after 20 weeks. He’s also supported exceptions for rape and incest.
Wisconsin’s ban on nearly all abortions was first passed in 1849, two years after statehood and before women had the right to vote. It went back into effect after Roe v. Wade was overturned, resulting in the end of abortions in the state. Democrats have brought forward a lawsuit seeking to overturn it, a case expected to ultimately be decided by the state Supreme Court.
Majority control of that court will flip from 4-3 conservative to 4-3 liberal in August, after voters earlier this month elected Janet Protasiewicz to the court. She was backed by Democrats and ran as a staunch defender of abortion rights, making it a key issue in the campaign.
Asked about the abortion pill mifepristone, a drug used in the most common method of abortion, Johnson said he had concerns about the Food and Drug Administration approving its use in 2000.
“I have my doubts about the FDA following the science in this one, and not playing politics with that as well,” Johnson said.
Mifepristone has been used by millions of women over the past 23 years. Over the years, the FDA has loosened restrictions on the drug’s use, extending from seven to 10 weeks of pregnancy when it can be used, reducing the dosage needed to safely end a pregnancy, eliminating the requirement to visit a doctor in person to get it and allowing pills to be obtained by mail.
The Supreme Court on Friday preserved women’s access to the drug while a lawsuit continues.
On other topics, Johnson said it was “common sense” to ban transgender girls and women from competing on girls and women’s sports teams.
“Where are the feminists standing up for women’s sports, for women’s rights?” Johnson said.
He called on the Wisconsin Legislature to pass such a ban. The Assembly passed a ban in 2021, but it died in the Senate in the face of an expected Evers veto.
Johnson also did not rule out running for a fourth term in 2028, saying, “Never say never.” After winning reelection to a second term in 2016, Johnson said he would not seek a third term, but later reversed himself.
Johnson was a firm supporter of former President Donald Trump and said Monday that he would support whoever wins the GOP nomination for president in 2024, including Trump. Republicans will be holding their nominating convention next summer in Milwaukee.
Wisconsin Democratic Party spokesperson Joe Oslund, in reaction to Johnson’s wide-ranging comments, called him a “serial liar and a national embarrassment.”