Ohio Governor Vetoes Heartbeat Bill, But Passes Ban on Abortions After Twenty Weeks

–by Bri Szopinski


Sheryl Gay Stolberg, John Kasich Signs One Abortion Bill in Ohio but Vetoes a More Restrictive Measure, N.Y. Times (Dec. 13, 2016), http://www.nytimes.com/2016/12/13/us/kasich-ohio-heartbeat-abortion-bill.html?_r=0.

Emanuella Grinberg, Ohio Governor Bans Abortions After 20 Weeks While Vetoing “Heartbeat” Bill, CNN (Dec. 14, 2016), http://www.cnn.com/2016/12/13/politics/ohio-abortion-bill-veto/.

Laura A. Bischoff, Gov. Kasich Vetoes Heartbeat Bill, Signs 20-Week Abortion Ban, Dayton Daily News (Dec. 13, 2016), http://www.daytondailynews.com/news/state–regional-govt–politics/gov-kasich-vetoes-heartbeat-bill-signs-week-abortion-ban/UbrhWj5zpvwbbCkfNeMInJ/.

Abstract: Ohio simultaneously passed a ban on abortions after twenty weeks while rejecting legislation prohibiting abortions after doctors detect a fetal heartbeat.


On Tuesday, December 13, 2016, Ohio Governor John Kasich vetoed Ohio’s controversial “heartbeat bill” while simultaneously passing a bill that prohibits abortions after twenty weeks.

The “heartbeat bill” (House Bill 493) originated in the Ohio House of Representatives. With respect to abortions, the bill prohibited physicians from performing abortions once doctors detect the fetal heartbeat.  Generally, doctors detect heartbeats at about six weeks into the pregnancy.  The “heartbeat bill” did not contain any exceptions allowing women to undergo an abortion in the case of rape or incest.  This bill passed the Ohio Legislature as one of the strictest anti-abortion bills in the country and went to Governor Kasich for a signature or veto.

On December 8, 2016, the Ohio Legislature voted on Senate Bill 127, which also intended to regulate abortion by establishing a blanket prohibition of abortions after twenty weeks.  Like the “heartbeat” bill, Senate Bill 127 also passed both the Ohio House of Representatives and the Senate, and went to Governor Kasich for a signature or veto.

Despite both bills’ passage in the House and Senate, Governor Kasich vetoed the “heartbeat bill” but upheld Senate Bill 127.  He stated that the “heartbeat bill” contradicted the Supreme Court’s rulings in Roe v. Wade, Planned Parenthood v. Casey, and Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt.  Federal courts had recently struck down similar legislation in other states, suggesting that any legal challenges to the “heartbeat bill” would end similarly to the challenges in those states: in the challenger’s favor.

Senate Bill 127, however, prohibits abortions after twenty weeks into a pregnancy.  Present law requires doctors to find a fetus non-viable, or unable to survive outside the womb, before performing an abortion.  Doctors can make exceptions to this requirement when the pregnancy seriously impacts the woman’s health.  Senate Bill 127 modifies current Ohio abortion law by eliminating the viability test altogether and making a blanket prohibition against abortions after twenty weeks.  However, experts suggest that the point of viability of a fetus averages at about 24 weeks.  While the exception for the mother’s health still remains, doctors that perform abortions after twenty weeks without this exception could face criminal charges, likely a fourth-degree felony.  Doctors cannot make exceptions for cases of rape or incest.

Governor Kasich’s signing of Senate Bill 127 makes Ohio the third state this year to ban abortions after twenty weeks; Georgia and South Carolina also passed similar legislation in 2016.  This makes Ohio one of eighteen states that prohibit abortions after twenty weeks.  The law is expected to take effect in March, although some organizations have discussed challenging the law in the coming months.