Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R) has rejected a controversial bill that would have barred women in the state from having abortions as early as 6 weeks, but he signed another measure banning the procedure at 20 weeks.

The legislation, known as “the heartbeat bill,” would have prohibited abortions if a fetal heartbeat could be detected – usually around 6 weeks – and jailed physicians who performed the procedure without checking for a heartbeat or who provided an abortion after a heartbeat was found. The Ohio House approved the measure on Dec. 6 after earlier passage by the state senate. In his veto of the 6-week ban, Gov. Kasich noted that federal courts have struck down similar legislation in Arkansas and North Dakota, and that he did not want Ohio taxpayers to fund a losing legal challenge.

“Because the federal courts are bound to follow the Supreme Court’s rulings on abortion, the amendment … will be struck down,” Gov. Kasich said in a statement. “The state of Ohio will be the losing party in that lawsuit and … be forced to pay hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars to cover the legal fees of the pro-choice activists’ lawyers. Furthermore, such a defeat invites additional challenges to Ohio’s strong legal protections for unborn life. Therefore, this veto is in the public interest.”

Abortion rights advocates were quick to criticize the 20-week ban ( SB 127 ), saying that Ohio lawmakers still intend to effectively end abortion in the state.

“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 , Planned Parenthood Action Fund executive vice president said in a statement.

The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists Ohio Section also opposes the 20-week ban. In a Dec. 9 letter to Gov. Kasich, Wayne Trout, MD , chair of ACOG’s Ohio Section, said these types of laws come between physicians and patients and create unnecessary medical risks.

“A great number of pregnancy terminations beyond 20 weeks are due to identification of serious and fatal birth defects in otherwise highly desired pregnancies,” Dr. Trout wrote. “Continuation of these pregnancies would result in certain death of the baby and expose the newborn to needless pain. Meanwhile the mother is forced to carry the fetus to term and may be exposed to a myriad of medical and reproductive risks.”

The Ohio law also places doctors in a “precarious situation,” he noted, by criminalizing a medical procedure that is recognized by ACOG as a standard of care when women have a medical indication for termination of pregnancy.

Abortion opponents meanwhile, praised the 20-week ban, calling it a vehicle to end abortion. “It challenges the current national abortion standard and properly moves the legal needle from viability to the baby’s ability to feel pain,” Mike Gonidakis , President of Ohio Right to Life said in a statement .

agallegos@frontlinemedcom.com

On Twitter @legal_med

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