Sen. Ron Johnson threatened to cut off his children for out-of-wedlock births, docs show

Despite his opposition to abortion, Johnson vowed to deny his kids their trusts if they had babies out of marriage

By Amanda Marcotte

Senior Writer

Published August 30, 2016 1:32PM (EDT)

Ron Johnson   (Reuters/Jason Reed)
Ron Johnson (Reuters/Jason Reed)

According to court documents obtained by Salon, Sen. Ron Johnson, a Republican from Wisconsin who strongly opposes abortion, has made it difficult for any of his children to go forward with an unplanned pregnancy — under threat of being cut out of the family trust.

In 1997, Johnson, who has an estimated net worth of $17 million, set up a trust for his three children: two daughters and a son. Most of the document is standard fare, designating money to help cover expenses.

But under the section labeled "termination of benefits," things become odd. Johnson and his wife decreed that his children could be cut off from receiving their share of the trust in just two cases: demonstrating egregious criminal behavior or having "more than one child" without being married. See the relevant passages below:

Ron Johnson Trust Probate Case-2 ron johnson


As it reads, it seems that his kids are allowed one felony or one child out of wedlock, and after that, they're cut off. While there's no way to know how big Johnson's trust is, odds are that it's huge; he is a very wealthy man, after all. Yet Johnson may not have intended for his trust to incentivize abortion.

Although many conservatives like to tout abstinence as the best way to prevent out-of-wedlock childbearing, it is simply not realistic. The Guttmacher Institute calls premarital sex "nearly universal," with more than 95 percent of Americans having it. Women are 20 times more likely to use birth control than abstain from sex until marriage and six times more times likely to have an abortion at some point rather than wait for marriage.

The threat to disinherit his children for having a baby out of wedlock is hard to square with Johnson's long-standing hostility to abortion and contraception. Johnson is on the record as stating that the "unborn" are "the smallest, most defenseless people" and "have the right to life." Johnson has also been an eager soldier in the fight against Planned Parenthood's funding, even though the venerable organization does more work to prevent unintended pregnancy than any other in the country.

One can see why Johnson, who calls himself "a pretty traditional guy," wanted to avoid the public embarrassment of his children "choosing life" while single. But Johnson doesn't hide that he wants to take away that option of saying no to unwanted parenthood for the rest of America. Women of means, of course, will always be able to go to Canada.

And as the 113 amicus briefs submitted to the Supreme Court by women who have had abortions demonstrate, women often choose abortion precisely because having a baby at a particular moment would be ruinous to their financial future.

Overall, this has been a rough election cycle for Johnson. Last summer he referred to "idiot inner city kids" on a talk-radio show. He later said this was an attempt to satirize liberal views in the fight about whether to redirect public school funding toward private schools — and not a reflection of his own views.

More recently, Johnson has made headlines suggesting many classroom teachers could be eliminated and instead would "be better off popping in 14 hours of Ken Burns’s Civil War tape" to educate them instead.

Burns responded by saying, "I'm here to support teachers, not replace them."

Johnson is running for re-election against Democrat Russ Feingold, who previously served in the Senate.

Salon contacted the Johnson campaign for comment but has received no official response.

Feingold is now polling 11 points over Johnson, according to polling averages on RealClearPolitics.

By Amanda Marcotte

Amanda Marcotte is a senior politics writer at Salon and the author of "Troll Nation: How The Right Became Trump-Worshipping Monsters Set On Rat-F*cking Liberals, America, and Truth Itself." Follow her on Twitter @AmandaMarcotte and sign up for her biweekly politics newsletter, Standing Room Only.

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