Stand up for the facts!
Our only agenda is to publish the truth so you can be an informed participant in democracy.
We need your help.
I would like to contribute
If Your Time is short
Barnes uses fear-inspiring language that suggest Johnson backs an outright ban on any abortion at any point.
Johnson has long supported a federal ban after 20 weeks of pregnancy
More recently, he has emphasized his position that states should decide their own limits on abortion, though he left open the possibility the federal government may need to step in at some point.
That does not amount to a change after the Supreme Court ruling, as Barnes implies
The U.S. Senate race in Wisconsin, featuring incumbent Republican Ron Johnson and Democratic challenger Mandela Barnes, is full of sharp contrasts.
And sharp claims.
Consider this Aug. 17 tweet from Barnes, in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court decision throwing out Roe v. Wade:
"Ron Johnson just came out in favor of a federal abotion ban. We knew this was coming … he is doing everything he can to drag us back in time and strip women of their rights and freedoms."
For this check, we’ll focus on the first portion of the tweet: Does Johnson, who is seeking a third term, back a federal abortion ban? And did he announce such a position recently?
We’ll start with a truism of politics: The closer you get to an election, particularly a hotly contested one, the stronger statements are framed — and often the more facts get lost in the matter.
In this case, there should be little surprise that the two sides differ on what the word "ban" means.
But there’s little question that Johnson’s position has not suddenly changed dramatically.
Let’s dig in.
The Supreme Court decision, of course, undid the constitutional right to an abortion granted under the Roe v. Wade ruling, sending the matter to the states.
Abortion-rights supports say one way to address the situation now is to pass a measure permitting abortions — in effect, making the standards under Roe part of federal law. Abortion foes, meanwhile, have long worked to pass federal laws limiting abortion.
When we asked Barnes’ campaign to back up the claim, a spokesperson pointed to several things, including those GOP-led efforts and Johnson’s support for them.
First, they cited a 2019 bill that called for prison time for performing or attempting an abortion after a fetus reaches 20 weeks or more, except in cases in which pregnancy endangers the mother’s life or results from rape or incest.
Johnson was a co-sponsor of the bill, according to Congress.gov and voted in favor of it on Feb. 25, 2020, according to Senate records. According to Congressional records, Johnson also supported similar bills in 2012, 2013, 2015, 2017, 2018 and 2021.
This is where the definition of a ban comes in.
The Johnson side says "a ban is a ban is a ban." That’s a quote from Ben Voelkel, with the Johnson campaign. In other words, unless abortion is prohibited entirely, with no exceptions, it is not a ban.
Meanwhile, the Barnes side would argue that, yes, a ban is a ban. That is, any sort of ban — even one that starts at 20 weeks of pregnancy — is still "a ban."
They note Johnson himself used the word "ban" in describing his support for the matter in a May 2022 segment on Newsmax: "I signed on to a national bill that would have banned abortions after 20 weeks." (That four-second clip is even featured on the YouTube page for the Barnes campaign)
But consider the remainder of the Barnes tweet for context. He says of Johnson, "He is doing everything he can to drag us back in time and strip women of their rights and freedoms."
The phrasing leaves the impression that Johnson would ban abortion entirely, or at least lets readers reach that conclusion.
The bottom line: Barnes does not fully make his case on this point.
We also need to take a closer look at what Johnson has been saying since the Supreme Court decision.
After all, Barnes claimed Johnson "recently" came out in support of a ban, which is hard to reconcile with the idea of a measure he has sponsored for a decade.
To that end, both sides pointed us to the same link: an Aug. 17 interview with Johnson published by the Washington County Daily News.
In it, Johnson says he doesn’t think that Supreme Court justices or Congress should decide on when abortion is allowed, rather it should be up to the states:
"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."
He even goes on to suggest a referendum — or even multiple referendums — may be needed to fully sort through the issue in Wisconsin.
"Whatever is the most direct way of having the people make that decision, OK," he said. "And, this may take multiple elections. It might take a different referendum to hone in on where does Wisconsin, where do the people, believe society has the responsibility to protect life. Again, I’ve got my own views, other people have their own. Let’s find out where, where is that center."
But the Barnes campaign points to a separate line from the same interview in which Johnson says the federal government may have a role after all:
"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."
So, Johnson is saying the states should decide, but the federal government might still need to step in and draw the lines differently.
It is also in line with what he said in May 2019, in an interview at the state Republican party convention, in which he said he opposed an Alabama law that banned abortion after six weeks — a period before which women may not even know they are pregnant. (That, opponents said, effectively banned all abortions.)
In that interview, Johnson said he wished the Supreme Court had not legalized abortion in 1973 in the Roe case, noting: "Had that played out state by state, my guess, we would have pretty much a uniform standard, and we’d protect life in the womb of a mother far earlier than we do now."
So, whether someone agrees with Johnson’s position or not, Barnes also overplays his hand by suggesting that Johnson is somehow going further than he had before, in the wake of the new ruling.
Barnes claimed that Johnson "just came out in favor of a federal abortion ban."
Johnson has said he supports a federal ban after 20 weeks of pregnancy, but that’s not what Barnes said or how he framed it. In the rhetoric he used, Barnes made it sound as if it could be an outright ban — no abortion ever.
What’s more, Barnes also made it appear as if Johnson changed positions in reaction to the Supreme Court ruling. He did not. Since the decision, Johnson has emphasized that states should decide — though he has left open the door to the federal government stepping in at some point, if necessary.
Our definition for Mostly False is: "The statement contains an element of truth but ignores critical facts that would give a different impression."
That fits here.
Mandela Barnes, Twitter, Aug. 17, 2022
Congress.gov, "S.160 - Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act," Sept. 7, 2022
Senate.gov, "Roll call vote 116th Congress - 2nd session," Sept. 7, 2022
Congress.gov, "S.2103 District of Columbia Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act," Sept. 7, 2022
Congress.gov, "S.1670 Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act," Sept. 7, 2022
Congress.gov, "S.1553 Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act," Sept. 7, 2022
Congress.gov, "S.1922 Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act," Sept. 7, 2022
Congress.gov, "S.2311 Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act," Sept. 7, 2022
Congress.gov, "S.61 Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act," Sept. 7, 2022
Conversation with Ben Voekel of the Johnson campaign, Sept. 9. 2022
New York Time, "Tracking the States Where Abortion is Now Banned," Sept. 9, 2022
Team Mandela, "Johnson says he’s signed onto a 20 week abotion ban, 5/3/2022," Sept. 7, 2022
Newsmax, "Dems ‘fundamentally destroying’ Democracy," May 3, 2022
Washington County Daily News, "Johnson, Michels campaign in Germantown," Aug. 17,
TMJ4, "Sen. Ron Johnson believes states should decide on abortion laws," May 6, 2022
Wisfacts.com, "For the record: My position on abortion," Sept. 9, 2022
PolitiFact, "Blake Masters ‘wants to pass a national ban on abortion," Aug. 5, 2022
Read About Our Process
In a world of wild talk and fake news, help us stand up for the facts.