COLUMBUS, Ohio — 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
NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio said the 20-week ban would allow abortions only if a woman is on the brink of death or suffering permanent organ damage.
Ohio Right To Life praised Kasich for signing the ban, saying it would save "hundreds of unborn lives each year" and allow Ohio to directly challenge the U.S. Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion until viability, usually at 22 to 24 weeks.
The 20-week ban "challenges the current national abortion standard and properly moves the legal needle from viability to the baby's ability to feel pain," said Mike Gonidakis, Ohio Right To Life president. He agreed with Kasich's decision to veto the heartbeat bill.
Ohio lawmakers still have the option to override Kasich's veto. Doing so would require a three-fifths majority of each chamber.
Janet Folger, president of Faith2Action, an anti-abortion group pressing for the heartbeat bill, called on Republican House Speaker Cliff Rosenberger to bring an override veto to the House floor. A message was left with Rosenberger's office.
The developments in Ohio are a prelude to a broad offensive to be launched in January by abortion-rights opponents emboldened by the election success of Donald Trump and the Republican Party.
GOP lawmakers in numerous states — including Texas, Missouri, Iowa, Indiana and Kentucky — plan to push for new anti-abortion legislation. Their efforts are being supported by a national anti-abortion group, Americans United for Life, which released a report Tuesday contending that many abortion clinics are in violation of state health and safety standards.
In Congress, Republicans are expected to advance legislation banning most abortions after 20 weeks and halting federal funding for Planned Parenthood as long as it performs abortions. The president-elect has pledged to support both measures.
In Oklahoma on Tuesday, the state Supreme Court threw out a law requiring abortion clinics to have doctors who have admitting privileges at hospitals within 30 miles of their facility.
The court ruled that measure, which requires doctors with admitting privileges to be present for abortions, violates both the U.S. and Oklahoma constitutions. Republican Gov. Mary Fallin signed it into law in 2014, but courts had blocked it from going into effect. The U.S. Supreme Court earlier this year struck down a similar provision in Texas.
Associated Press writer David Crary in New York contributed to this report.
Julie Carr Smyth, The Associated Press