When now-Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) first ran in 2010, he had a zinger for his opponent, then-Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI).
“I would like to ask Russ, ‘Have you ever witnessed a partial-birth abortion?'” Johnson said, attacking the liberal stalwart for supporting the right to a late-term abortion.
It’s a throughline for Johnson, and for the conservative movement as a whole.
“As a compassionate society we have an obligation to protect life, especially the life of the most vulnerable among us — the unborn, and those babies born alive despite an abortionist’s attempt to kill them,” Johnson said ten years later, supporting a 2020 vote on a abortion ban that failed to overcome a Democratic filibuster.
Now, with the pro-life movement seemingly on the verge of securing a historic victory with the likely impending reversal of Roe v. Wade, Johnson is striking a different tune.
“It might be a little messy for some people, but abortion is not going away,” he told the Wall Street Journal this week, when asked about the impact of the precedent’s overturning in Wisconsin.
For Johnson himself, it’s an election year. Wisconsin Democrats are vying to unseat him, with Roe poised to become a pivotal issue in the election.
His state has received sharp attention in part for what would happen if Roe were to be overturned. The state still has an 1849 statute on the books that would make it a felony for health care providers to perform an abortion in all cases except to protect the life of the mother.
Wisconsin would be one of many states in the midwest — and around the country — to revert to abortion bans if Roe is overturned, either returning to statutes that remained on the books but not in effect, or laws passed since the 1973 Supreme Court decision that would curtail access to abortion should the precedent ever be overturned.
Johnson added that those who sought an abortion could always travel to Democratic-controlled Illinois for the procedure.
The statement drew fast condemnation from candidates in the Democratic Senate primary. Alex Lasry, executive of the Milwaukee Bucks, told TPM that “‘messy’ is when you spill a glass of milk.” Mandela Barnes, the state’s lieutenant governor, tweeted his indignation, calling Johnson’s actions “not only disappointing,” but “dangerous.”
Sarah Godlewski, the state’s treasurer, appeared last week outside the Supreme Court to protest, and told TPM in a statement that “this will be a problem for him in November, he knows it, and he’s trying to distance himself from it but I’m not going to let him, I’m already holding him accountable.”
National Democrats pounced on the remarks as well.
“Ron Johnson has spent his entire political career trying to rip away health care from Wisconsin women and families, and his comments are as callous and out of step with Wisconsinites as his record is,” Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee spokesperson Amanda Sherman-Baity said in a statement to TPM.
Johnson did not return TPM’s request for comment regarding his remarks, or whether his position on abortion has changed now that Roe appears set to fall.
“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,” Johnson told WSJ.