Gov. Kasich vetoes ‘heartbeat bill’, signs law banning abortion in Ohio 20 weeks into pregnancy

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Ohio Governor John Kasich.
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REUTERS/Bryan Woolston

Ohio Gov. John Kasich vetoed one controversial abortion bill and signed another on Tuesday, putting into law strict measures on reproductive rights in the state.

The law Kasich signed will ban abortion after 20 weeks into pregnancy. The second, known as the heartbeat bill because it bans abortion after the fetus’s heartbeat can be detected, he vetoed.

Kasich explained in his veto of the heartbeat bill that it was “clearly contrary to the Supreme Court of the United States’ current rulings on abortion,” and that signing it into law would ensure the “State of Ohio will be forced to pay hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars” in a losing lawsuit.

The ACLU of Ohio has threatened to sue if either bill became law. Other abortions-rights advocates would most likely join their suit.

The brewing national debate on abortion

Abortion-rights advocacy groups, including Planned Parenthood and the Center for Reproductive Rights, decried the bill, calling it unconstitutional and saying it violates the Supreme Court’s 1973 ruling in Roe v. Wade granting women a constitutional right to safe, legal abortions.

“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,” Dawn Laguens, Executive Vice President of Planned Parenthood Action Fund, said in a statement on Kasich’s actions sent to Business Insider. “This is just another shameful attempt by John Kasich to make abortion illegal.”

President-elect Donald Trump has said he wants to appoint justices who oppose abortion and would overturn the landmark case, leaving reproductive rights up to the states.

Republican Keith Faber, the president of the Ohio Senate, told The Associated Press after the heartbeat bill passed that Trump’s victory emboldened the Legislature to pass it with the hope that the courts would uphold the bill.

“I think it has a better chance than it did before” to survive a legal challenge, Faber said.

Kellie Copeland, executive director of the abortion-rights group NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio, said in a statement on Kasich’s actions Tuesday that the 20-week ban “callously disregards the unique circumstances that surround a woman’s pregnancy.”

“Kasich’s actions today will fall hardest on low-income women, women of color, and young women,” Copeland said. “History will not judge Gov. Kasich’s disregard for women’s health kindly.”

Kasich tweeted shortly after signing the bill that he “appreciate[s] the support of Ohio Right to Life,” linking to the antiabortion group’s statement on his actions:

“By signing S.B. 127, the 20-week ban, Governor Kasich will save hundreds of unborn lives each year and he positioned the state of Ohio to directly challenge Roe v. Wade,” Ohio Right to Life President Mike Gonidakis said in the statement. “The 20-week ban was nationally designed to be the vehicle to end abortion in America.”

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Rep. Teresa Fedor, a Democrat from Toledo.
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AP Photo/Tony Dejak

Both bills allowed for an exception if the mother’s health is endangered, but not for cases of rape or incest. Rep. Teresa Fedor, a Democrat from Toledo, who told the Legislature last year that she had an abortion after she was raped while in the military, called the ban an “attack on women.”

The evidence

Research has found that most women who get abortions at or after 20 weeks wanted to get one sooner but couldn’t because they couldn’t travel to get one, were victims of domestic violence, were depressed or had substance abuse problems, or couldn’t afford it.

Another reason to terminate a pregnancy after 20 weeks is severe birth defects – such as trisomy 18 – in which the fetus wouldn’t survive if the woman carried it to term. On Wednesday, a couple who lost two pregnancies because of trisomy 18 testified before the House, encouraging the committee to reject the 20-week bill.

Only 478 of the 20,976 abortions reported in Ohio in 2015 involved pregnancies of more than 19 weeks, according to the state Department of Health. Fewer than 1% of abortions in the state occurred after 21 weeks into the pregnancy.

Ohio joins 24 other states that have laws on the books banning abortion after 20 weeks into pregnancy, according to the Guttmacher Institute.

Doctors can detect a fetus’s heartbeat as early as six weeks into pregnancy. Women usually don’t find out they’re pregnant until four to seven weeks in – meaning the heartbeat bill would most likely have left many women unable to get a safe, legal abortion in the state.

Abortion-rights advocates protested outside the governor’s mansion after the state legislature passed the heartbeat bill on December 6, encouraging Kasich to veto the bill: