Steven Walters
The State of Politics

Ron Johnson’s Curious Stand on Abortion

Pleading for Republican unity on an issue that's a loser for the party.

By - May 28th, 2024 10:39 am
Ron Johnson. Photo by Gage Skidmore from Peoria, AZ, United States of America / CC BY-SA (

Ron Johnson. Photo by Gage Skidmore from Peoria, AZ, United States of America / (CC BY-SA)

Poll numbers explain the plea of U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, the Wisconsin Republican Party’s top elected official, for Republicans to set aside differences on abortion and focus on winning the presidency and GOP majorities in Congress on Nov. 5.

In his speech to the Republican state convention, Johnson said, “In the end, we have to win elections.”

The issue of abortion, “divides us,” Johnson conceded. “If we’re going to win, we must unify.”

The three-term senator said the general goal of Republicans is to “protect life,” but there is a “broad spectrum within the Republican Party on what that means.”

Clarifying that comment, Johnson said, the personal belief of he and other Republicans that “life begins at conception” is “not where probably most Americans, most Wisconsinites and probably even where most Republicans land.”

He noted that Wisconsin Republican legislators considered banning abortion after the 20th week of pregnancy, he has supported a 15-week ban, Florida Republicans enacted a six-week ban and some European nations have 12- or 14-week bans.

Those differences are why, Johnson said, he proposed a statewide referendum on the “profound moral issue [of] at what point does society have the responsibility to protect life in the womb” during his winning 2022 campaign for a third term.

That remains a “we the people” issue that should be decided “state by state,” Johnson said.

Johnson conceded that his call for unity on the controversial subject was unpopular. “Many people in this [convention hall] do not like what I’m saying,” he said. But he felt a responsibility to “lay out reality.”

Johnson also wants Republican U.S. Senate candidate Eric Hovde to defeat Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin in November.

At the Republican Party convention, Hovde suggested that an abortion ban after the 12th or 14th week of pregnancy may be reasonable, but he also endorsed a statewide referendum on the question.

Baldwin says “women and their doctors should decide their care.”

Marquette University Law School polls put Johnson’s comments in context.

In MU polls over the last 30 months, more than one-third of respondents who identified as Republicans consistently said they believe that abortion should be legal in all or most cases.

In the April survey released weeks ago, 35% of Republican respondents offered that opinion. Before the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the Dobbs case that states – and not the federal government – could set their own rules on abortion access, 41% of Wisconsin Republicans said abortion should be legal in all or most cases.

Even more concerning was the opinion of political independents. In a state like Wisconsin, they decide close elections. And Marquette University surveys suggest that the number of independents who support abortion access has increased. Before the Dobbs ruling, for example, 54% of respondents who considered themselves independents said abortion should be available in all or most cases. That percentage soared – to 71% – in the first MU poll after the Dobbs ruling. And, in the recent April poll, 67% of independents again backed abortion access.

In those MU polls, respondents who identify as Democrats have increasingly backed abortion access in all or most cases. In a pre-Dobbs ruling survey, 81% of them expressed that opinion; in a post-Dobbs poll, that number rose to 93% and, in April, 94% of Democrats again said that summarized their view.

In each of those MU polls, more than 60% of all who responded favored abortion access in all or most cases.

MU poll founder Charles Franklin said the Republican Party “is still struggling to reconcile its strong pro-life history with the public majority favoring some level of abortion rights.”

“Abortion was a significant issue in 2022, including our governor’s race,” Franklin said. “It put Republicans in a difficult position in many races. Ron Johnson’s call for a referendum reduced the salience of the issue in the Senate race and gave him an answer when asked about the issue.”

Johnson said Wisconsin will again play a “crucial” role in electing the next president, so Wisconsin Republicans must do all they can to elect former Donald Trump. With that in mind, he offered this exaggeration of Democrats’ views on abortion:

“Democrats want abortion up to the moment of birth – that’s called infanticide,” Johnson added. “Please report that, press.”

Steven Walters started covering the Capitol in 1988. Contact him at

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One thought on “The State of Politics: Ron Johnson’s Curious Stand on Abortion”

  1. TosaGramps1315 says:

    To me, everything about Ron Johnson is curious. Most particularly curious to me is how he is still a United States senator. Beyond that, his position on abortion seems to vacillate pretty dramatically from being firmly anti-abortion to “let’s pick a number of weeks that life begins and go with that so we can win elections”. Curious that comes from the mouth of a man who has no idea the full ramifications of pregnancy.
    In the end it won’t matter because the Republican way for everything is to secure power, then do whatever the hell they want regardless of the positions they claimed they believed when running for office.
    Hypocrites. All of them.

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