Republican Gov. John Kasich signed a bill Tuesday imposing a 20-week abortion ban while vetoing stricter provisions in a separate measure that would have barred the procedure at the first detectable fetal heartbeat.
The so-called heartbeat bill would have prohibited most abortions once a fetal heartbeat is detected, which can be as early as six weeks into pregnancy — or before many women know they are pregnant. Its provisions cleared the Republican-led Legislature during a lame-duck flurry last week after being tucked into separate legislation.
Similar measures elsewhere have faced legal challenges, and detractors in Ohio feared such legislation would lead to a costly fight in the courts. Opponents predicted it would be found unconstitutional, a concern Kasich shared.
Kasich, an abortion-rights opponent, chose instead to sign off on a 20-week ban similar to those now in effect in 15 states and blocked from enforcement in two others. The measures are based on the assertion that fetuses can feel pain then, which opponents characterize as scientifically unsound. Ohio lawmakers rejected a Democratic amendment that would have added exceptions for rape and incest.
The 20-week ban “is the best, most legally sound and sustainable approach to protecting the sanctity of human life,” Kasich said.
Kasich said the heartbeat provision would have been struck down based on other federal court rulings. Enacting the law would also invite challenges to current Ohio abortion prohibitions and would mean costly litigation.
“The State of Ohio will be the losing party in that lawsuit and, as the losing party, the State of Ohio will be forced to pay hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars to cover the legal fees for the pro-choice activists’ lawyers,” Kasich said.
“Therefore, this veto is in the public interest,” the governor said.
Abortion-rights groups criticized Kasich for signing the 20-week ban. Planned Parenthood called it dangerous legislation that blocks a woman from making important medical decisions during her pregnancy.
“The 20-week ban will force women to travel long distances and cross state lines in order to access safe, legal abortion — a barrier that many women simply cannot afford,” said Dawn Laguens, executive vice president of Planned Parenthood Action Fund.