By Kim Palmer
CLEVELAND (Reuters) - Republican Governor John Kasich signed a 20-week abortion ban into law on Tuesday but vetoed stricter legislation that would have forbidden the procedure once a fetal heartbeat can be detected, as early as six weeks after conception.
Kasich, an abortion opponent, said in a statement that the proposed six-week legislation would be contrary to U.S. Supreme Court rulings on abortion, opening the state to potentially costly legal battles, and the veto was "in the public interest."
"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 on the 20-week law, which lawmakers approved last week.
Neither of the measures made exceptions for rape or incest, although both allow for abortions that would save the mother's life.
The U.S. Supreme Court legalized abortion nationwide more than four decades ago, but states were allowed to permit restrictions once a fetus was viable. Some states, particularly those governed by Republicans such as Ohio, have sought to restrict abortion.
More than 10 states have put 20-week abortion bans in place, but federal courts in Arizona and Idaho have ruled them unconstitutional.
Under current law, Ohio prohibits abortion once a fetus is considered viable outside the womb, which is from 24 to 26 weeks of gestation.
Lower courts have struck down stricter "heartbeat" laws, like the one Kasich vetoed on Tuesday, in North Dakota and Arkansas. The Supreme Court refused to hear appeals on those rulings in January.
Kasich's decisions quickly drew criticism from both anti-abortion and abortion rights organizations.
"John Kasich is treating women’s health care like a game," Kellie Copeland, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio, said in a statement after the signing.
"He thinks that by vetoing one abortion ban Ohioans will not notice that he has signed another. The 20-week abortion ban callously disregards the unique circumstances that surround a woman’s pregnancy."
Meanwhile, anti-abortion group Faith2Action, called Kasich's veto of the six-week ban a "betrayal of life," and urged supporters to call lawmakers to try to persuade them to override Kasich's veto.
At least three-fifths of the members of both the Republican-led state House of Representatives and the state Senate would have to vote in favor of overriding the governor's veto in order to overturn it.
(Writing by Timothy Mclaughlin in Chicago; editing by Dan Grebler and Jonathan Oatis)