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Anti-abortion and abortion-rights protesters gather June 24, 2022, outside the Supreme Court in Washington. (AP) Anti-abortion and abortion-rights protesters gather June 24, 2022, outside the Supreme Court in Washington. (AP)

Anti-abortion and abortion-rights protesters gather June 24, 2022, outside the Supreme Court in Washington. (AP)

Madeline Heim
By Madeline Heim October 4, 2022

Group twists Barnes' abortion rights position beyond recognition

If Your Time is short

  • The very nature of the word "preemie" implies that the baby has already been born. There’s no evidence that Barnes supports killing babies who have already been born. 

  • The group conflates Barnes’ support of codifying Roe v. Wade with supporting abortion "up until time of birth." 

  • That’s inaccurate — even when Roe was the law of the land, there were stricter gestational limits on the procedure in Wisconsin and elsewhere, that allowed only for abortions later in pregnancy in rare health crises.

The tight, closely watched race for one of Wisconsin’s U.S. Senate seats is growing increasingly bitter as Election Day nears. 

Ads attacking Republican U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, or attacking his Democratic challenger, Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes, seem to be everywhere. 

Indeed, an especially vivid one even popped up Sept. 28 via Google on the PolitiFact Wisconsin website. The ad was from Restoration PAC, a conservative group based in Downers Grove, Illinois. 

The digital ad presents a mock dictionary definition. "Preemie," it reads. "An infant born prior to 37 weeks of pregnancy that Mandela Barnes supports killing." 

The claim is pretty outrageous — but its underpinnings draw on a familiar attack on Democrats who support abortion rights. 

Let’s break it down. 

Support for Roe v. Wade isn’t the same as supporting abortion until birth  

When asked for evidence to support the claim, Restoration PAC spokesperson Dan Curry clarified what it is really about: Barnes’ stance on abortion. 

(The ad links to a webpage which says the U.S. allows "on-demand" abortion "thanks to extreme abortion-on-demand Democrats like Joe Biden and Mandela Barnes." Barnes, of course, lives in Wisconsin, where abortion is currently banned in nearly every case.)

Curry wrote that the lieutenant governor supports "partial-birth abortions" — a political phrase referring to a rarely used abortion procedure — and "abortions up until time of birth." 

The use of the word "preemie," then, is wrong. "Preemie" is a nickname for babies born prematurely, more than three weeks before their due date. That key word? Born — meaning an abortion was not performed. 

The ad itself even used the word "born."

On its face, the statement makes it sound like Barnes supports killing these infants after they’ve been born, which would be homicide. In the United States, about 1 in 10 infants per year is born prematurely. 

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In his response, Curry wrote, "We removed one word from our advertising to make it clear exactly which barbaric procedure we are referring to that Barnes supports." 

A request for the updated ad, or updated language, was not returned. In any case, that change alone is evidence that the original claim — which is what we are rating here — wasn’t accurate. It was wildly wrong.

The broader implication, that Barnes supports abortions very late in pregnancy, is a common talking point from abortion opponents, who argue that if a person supports abortion rights, they support abortions "up until time of birth." 

A quick aside on that phrase — it’s misinformation in itself. 

According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, abortions at or after 21 weeks represent 1% of all abortions in the U.S. Many abortions that occur later in pregnancy are because of health crises — which Wisconsin’s abortion ban, and others, makes an exception to allow. Abortions moments before birth, as the above statement implies, do not happen.  

So, what is Barnes’ stance on abortion? He wants to codify Roe v. Wade, which federally protected the right to the procedure until June 24, when  U.S. Supreme Court overturned it. 

Seeking to make Roe the law of the land is not the same as supporting abortion up until birth. 

Even when Roe was in place, it didn’t greenlight abortion at any time during a pregnancy. It included a viability restriction, asserting that states couldn’t impose significant restrictions on abortion access before the fetus became viable — usually around 24 weeks’ gestational age. 

Most states — including Wisconsin — prohibited abortion, except in medical emergencies, after viability or even earlier in the pregnancy.  

With the ad’s linguistic distortion aside, the underlying point is still vastly misleading when it comes to Barnes’ view. 

Our ruling 

A Restoration PAC ad claimed that Barnes supports killing "preemies," or "infants born prior to 37 weeks of pregnancy." 

There’s no evidence for the claim that Barnes would support killing babies after birth — it is a wild accusation that the group itself has, apparently, backed off on. Even read more generously, the idea that Barnes would support abortion until birth misses the mark given what he has said about the issue. 

We rate this claim Pants on Fire!


Our Sources

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Ron Johnson and Mandela Barnes race is a toss-up; Tony Evers holds narrow lead over Tim Michels in Marquette Poll," Sept. 14, 2022

Ballotpedia, Restoration PAC, accessed Sept. 30, 2022

Wisconsin Public Radio, "Here’s what to know about abortion access in post-Roe Wisconsin," Sept. 9, 2022

Reno Gazette-Journal, "RGJ fact check: Does Cortez Masto support abortion up to moment of live birth?" Aug. 15, 2022

PolitiFact, "Fact-checking Blake Masters: Mark Kelly voted to legalize abortion ‘up until the moment of birth,’" Aug. 1, 2022

PolitiFact, "Marco Rubio misleads on Val Demings' stance on abortion later in pregnancy," Sept. 16, 2022

Email exchange with Dan Curry, Restoration PAC 

Kaiser Family Foundation, State Bans on So-called "Partial Birth" Abortion, updated July 7, 2022

Mayo Clinic, Premature birth - symptoms and causes, accessed Sept. 30, 2022

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Preterm birth, accessed Oct. 3, 2022

Kaiser Family Foundation, Abortions later in pregnancy, Dec. 5, 2019

Appleton Post-Crescent, "If Roe is overturned, Wisconsin law would allow abortion only 'to save the life of the mother.' Doctors say it's not always so clear-cut," May 10, 2022

Barnes campaign statement on the overturning of Roe v. Wade, June 24, 2022

Axios, "How late in pregnancy each state allows abortions," June 24, 2022

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Is abortion legal in Wisconsin? Here's how the overturning of Roe v. Wade affects Wisconsin abortion laws," June 24, 2022

Justia, Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113 (1973), accessed Sept. 30, 2022

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Group twists Barnes' abortion rights position beyond recognition

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