Ron Johnson urges action on abortion, renews calls for referendum as GOP grapples with the issue

NOW: Ron Johnson urges action on abortion, renews calls for referendum as GOP grapples with the issue

MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- Republican Senator Ron Johnson urged Republicans "to lead" on the issue of abortion and renewed calls for a statewide referendum asking voters at what point of pregnancy abortion should be legal in Wisconsin.

In Milwaukee, Johnson said he's been lobbying for a referendum and acknowledged how it played a central role in Republicans' latest statewide defeats since Roe v. Wade was overturned last year, triggering an 1849 law banning nearly all abortions to go into effect.

Johnson again suggested a single-issue referendum would be the best way to settle the issue. The referendum would ask voters how many weeks into pregnancy abortion should be legal, but Johnson declined to say how he would vote.

"It's all a secret ballot," he said while answering questions from a panel at a Milwaukee Press Club event. "I don't want to impose my view on anybody else."

The Oshkosh Republican added, "I have a hard time believing people would allow abortion past about 12 weeks. At the same time, I will say, too early, I don't think the public would support that because…it takes time to realize you're pregnant."

Before Roe was overturned, Wisconsin allowed women to seek an abortion at up to 20 weeks of pregnancy.

Johnson suggested giving voters three choices ranging from every week of pregnancy, beginning "from the moment of conception" and ending with never -- an unborn child has no right to life.

In Wisconsin, voters cannot change laws by statewide referendum. Instead, it would have to be crafted in a constitutional amendment that must pass the GOP-controlled Legislature two consecutive sessions before voters can weigh in.

Governor Tony Evers called on lawmakers to amend constitution in effort to change abortion laws, but Republicans quickly rejected his proposal.

GOP Playbook, 2024

After Republicans lost the last 14 out of 17 statewide elections, Johnson said the party needs to do a better job at motivating voters to the polls. He referenced Democrats' get out the vote (GOTV) efforts and their ability to capitalize on issues like abortion.

When asked if he supports curtailing voting on college campuses, Johnson said he wants to "expand it" after a board member of the Milwaukee-based Bradley Foundations recently urged top Republican donors to limit college voting.

"I’m not trying to limit people voting. I think we need to expand, certainly people who want to vote for us, and we need to give them a reason to do so," he said.

Looking at the U.S. Senate race, Johnson said he's not working to recruit anyone to run against incumbent Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) but said the best line of attack against her would be "the debt and deficit."

"She’s right there voting for every massive spending program…just happy to mortgage our kids’ future without a second thought."

No Republicans have officially launched a bid against Baldwin, but Madison businessman Eric Hovde is considering a run, along with U.S. Representative Tom Tiffany (WI-7th District). Some Republicans want U.S. Rep. Mike Gallagher, who represents the 8th Congressional District, to throw his hat in the race, but he has made no commitment.

When asked about the presidential race, Johnson said he would support former President Donald Trump or "whomever the Republican nominee is."

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