By Kevin Murphy
KANSAS CITY, Mo (Reuters) - Missouri's governor said on Thursday he will let a measure passed by state lawmakers this spring restricting abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy take effect -- though he will not sign it.
Under the state's constitution, bills sent to the governor but not signed become law.
The Missouri legislation, similar to that in several other states, prohibits abortions on viable fetuses after 20 weeks unless continuing the pregnancy would threaten the mother's life or cause substantial injury to her major bodily functions.
"This legislation was approved by an overwhelming, bi-partisan majority in both houses," Governor Jay Nixon said.
"Although people have differing views on this issue, it's important that we work together to provide accurate health information, promote personal responsibility, protect women's health, and improve foster care, adoption and child protection services."
Doctors who violate the law are subject to imprisonment, a fine of up to $50,000 and loss of their medical license.
"The major effect of this is to keep doctors specializing in late-term abortions from setting up business in Missouri," said Joe Ortwerth, executive director of the Missouri Family Policy Council, which strongly supported the law.
Several states, including Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Idaho and Indiana, have imposed bans on late-term abortions and a number of others are considering them.
Anti-abortion activists say the restrictions are reasonable given the research of Kanwaljeet J.S. Anand, a professor of pediatrics, anesthesiology, anatomy and neurobiology at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center, who believes fetuses begin to feel pain 20 weeks after fertilization.
Medical opinion on the subject is conflicted. The position of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists is that there is "no legitimate scientific information that supports the statement that a fetus experiences pain."
While Nixon has said he favors abortion rights, last summer he allowed other abortion restrictions to become law by neither signing nor vetoing them.
(Editing by James B. Kelleher and Jerry Norton)