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Kasich vetoes ‘heartbeat bill,’ signs 20-week abortion ban

Published: Tuesday, December 13, 2016 @ 11:47 AM
Updated: Wednesday, December 14, 2016 @ 6:18 AM
By: Laura A. Bischoff - Columbus bureau

Just hours after receiving two controversial abortion bills, Gov. John Kasich Tuesday moved swiftly to veto the so-called “heartbeat bill” that would have essentially outlawed abortion in Ohio and instead signed a bill that bans abortion after 20 weeks of gestation except if the mother’s life is in danger.

Both bills were strongly opposed by Democrats and anti-abortion groups — who threatened a court challenge. But the heartbeat bill would have given Ohio the most stringent abortion restrictions in the United States and was seen as the far more restrictive measure.

Senate Bill 127, or the 20-week abortion ban, marks the 18th time Kasich has signed an abortion restriction into law during his tenure as governor.

“I agree with Ohio Right to Life and other leading, pro-life advocates that SB 127 is the best, most legally sound and sustainable approach to protecting the sanctity of human life,” Kasich said in a statement.

Legal experts have said there are constitutional question marks with both bills. “They both probably would be struck down,” Susan Low Bloch, a professor of law at Georgetown University told this news organization last week.

Although courts have struck down 20-week bans in two states, 15 states currently have similar laws on their books. Some abortion advocates in Ohio feel the 20-week ban is a more realistic avenue for overturning Roe v. Wade, the 1973 landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision that gave women a constitutional right to have an abortion.

GOP lawmakers pushed through the two abortion bans last week during the legislature’s lame-duck session, surprising many who didn’t expect the heartbeat bill to advance that far. The bill was attached to a separate measure dealing with child abuse reporting and included an appropriation, allowing Kasich to veto parts of the bill while keeping others intact.

He signed the non-abortion parts of that bill and then signed the 20-week ban. The legislation does not make exceptions for rape or incest, though Kasich has supported such exceptions in the past.

Very few abortions in Ohio are performed after 20 weeks.

The heartbeat bill was pushed by Faith2Action, a group that employed aggressive lobbying tactics during its five-year effort to get it passed. Janet Porter of Faith2Action fired off an email to supporters Tuesday, urging them to call lawmakers and ask them to override Kasich’s veto.

It was unclear Tuesday if that will happen. To buck the governor, lawmakers w0uld have to return to Columbus and vote to override his veto by a three-fifths margin in both chambers, meaning House Republicans would have to pick up a few votes. The leadership in both houses last week cancelled the remaining sessions this year but left open the possibility of returning.

Senate Democrats asked Kasich to veto both bills, saying in a letter: “The provisions within these bills are so radical that they punish rape survivors and threaten the lives of pregnant women with incredibly restrictive exceptions to save the life of the mother. Senate President Keith Faber himself has acknowledged that ‘not a single court in the land’ has upheld the six-week ban due to its blatant conflict with long held Supreme Court precedent.”

The 16,000 member Ohio State Medical Association sent a letter to Kasich urging he veto both bills, saying they criminalize a procedure that is currently an accepted medical procedure.

Passage of the bills sparked protests in Columbus and elsewhere.

Dawn Laguens, Executive Vice President of Planned Parenthood Action Fund, said in a written statement Tuesday that Kasich is one of the “most extreme anti-abortion governors in this country.”

“He may hope that by vetoing a six-week ban – which would have virtually banned abortion with almost no exceptions – he comes off as moderate. But Ohio women see right through this and reject this extreme agenda. 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. This is just another shameful attempt by John Kasich to make abortion illegal. And Ohioans aren’t going to stand for it,” she said.

On the anti-abortion side, Ohio Right to Life did not support the heartbeat bill and advocated instead for the 20-week ban.

“By endorsing the 20-week ban in lieu of the heartbeat approach, Gov. Kasich provided strong pro-life leadership to finally engage a winnable battle with the federal judiciary while saving countless babies at the same time,” Ohio Right to Life President Mike Gonidakis said in a written statement.

In 2015, 20,976 pregnancies were terminated, marking a continued decline in abortions over the past 15 years in Ohio. Just 145 of the 20,976 were conducted after 20 weeks gestation, according to the Ohio Department of Health annual abortion report.

About the new law

Currently, abortion is legal in Ohio before the fetus has become viable outside the womb. Doctors must conduct viability tests before performing an abortion on a fetus 20 weeks or more in gestation. Other restrictions include: a ban on abortions in public hospitals, a ban on insurance coverage for abortions on government employees, a mandate that physicians perform an ultrasound before any abortion and counsel the woman about fetal development.

Under Senate Bill 127, abortions would be banned after 20 weeks except if the mother’s life is in danger. There is no exception for rape or incest.

Doctors who violate ban would face a fourth-degree felony and a mandatory license suspension for a violation.

The new law will take effect in 90 days barring a court challenge.