In Ohio, Kasich vetoes ‘heartbeat’ abortion bill in favor of a 20-week ban

Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R) vetoed a bill that would have barred women from seeking abortions at around six weeks into their pregnancy, noting courts likely would have deemed the legislation unconstitutional.

Carolyn Kaster/AP/File
Ohio Gov. John Kasich speaks during the daily news briefing at the White House in September. Kasich signed a bill on Tuesday, Dec. 13, 2016, 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.

Ohio Gov. John Kasich vetoed a controversial bill that would have made the state’s abortion rules some of the strictest in the nation, opting instead to place a smaller, albeit significant, restriction on the practice.

Dubbed the “heartbeat” bill, the proposed law sought to bar women from seeking abortions after doctors can first detect a fetal heartbeat, which occurs around six weeks into a pregnancy. That, abortion rights advocates say, is often earlier than many women even know they’re pregnant, and likely constitutes a violation of the 1973 US Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade.

In vetoing the bill Tuesday, Governor Kasich defied members of his own party, but compromised by signing a law that bars abortions following 20 weeks, when some say a fetus begins to feel pain, although researchers debate that idea, reports LiveScience.com.

“As governor I have worked hard to strengthen Ohio’s protections for the sanctity of human life, and I have a deep respect for my fellow members of the pro-life community and their ongoing efforts in defense of unborn life,” Kasich said in a statement. “Certain provisions that were amended into Am. Sub. HB 493, however, are clearly contrary to the Supreme Court of the United States’ current rulings on abortion.”

The US Supreme Court has held that states cannot place limits on abortions unless the fetus can live outside of the womb, which typically occurs around 24 weeks. The number of women seeking abortions that late in a pregnancy is low, with doctors performing  145 procedures in Ohio in 2015 after 24 weeks gestation, according to the Ohio Department of Public Health. That number constituted less than 1 percent of the state’s almost 21,000 abortions in 2015.

In the past few years, measures like Ohio’s heartbeat bill have gained momentum across the nation. Pro-choice advocates are increasingly on edge after President-elect Donald Trump’s unexpected victory, fearing that he will appoint conservative justices to federal courts and the Supreme Court will approve new restrictions.

"In 2011 you started to see this huge increase," Elizabeth Nash of the Guttmacher Institute, a research institute focusing on reproductive rights, told The Christian Science Monitor in June. Not long after tea party candidates entered office, she said, "you started to see abortion restrictions fly through state legislatures, and they haven't really stopped."

While Kasich did not give his outright support to the bill, his veto message cited possible legal issues rather than any moral reservations. Other states have enacted similar laws only to have them struck down by federal courts. The US Supreme Court has subsequently refused to hear appeals in these cases.

“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,” he said. “Furthermore, such a defeat invites additional challenges to Ohio’s strong legal protections for unborn life. Therefore, this veto is in the public interest.”

The veto, and subsequent legislation, leaves both advocates and opponents of abortion rights torn. Pro-life advocates say the fight to restrict abortion is far from over, with some urging state legislators to overturn the veto, while those in the pro-choice camp are urging their supporters not to let down their guard.

Don’t let John Kasich fool you,” Dawn Laguens, executive vice president of Planned Parenthood Action Fund, said in a statement, according to USA Today. “He is one of the most extreme anti-abortion governors in this country. Kasich is on a mission to make abortion illegal in Ohio, and he’s intent on using smoke and mirrors and backdoor politics to do it.”

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