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Ohio’s 20-Week Abortion Ban Signals More Restrictions Ahead

Ohio Gov. John Kasich may have opted for the less extreme of two strict abortion bills on his desk Tuesday — but his decision to sign a measure banning the procedure after 20 weeks signals an emboldened Republican Party that is likely to pursue related restrictions in the coming year, according to abortion rights advocates and opponents alike.

"We've already been seeing bans starting at 20 weeks," said Brigitte Amiri, senior staff attorney at the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project. "Certainly, Donald Trump's election will embolden politicians at the state and federal level to push for more restrictions — including bans on abortion."

John Kasich
Ohio Gov. John Kasich speaks during the daily news briefing at the White House in Washington. Carolyn Kaster / AP

With Kasich's signature on Senate Bill 127, Ohio became the 16th state on Tuesday to ban abortion at 20 weeks post-fertilization, according to the Guttmacher Institute, which supports abortion rights. It was the first, however, to do so since the election of Trump. Many expect it won't be the last.

"Absolutely, we believe that health and safety standards are going to be considered in the next legislative session," said Kristi Hamrick, spokesperson for Americans United for Life, an anti-abortion group that released a report Tuesday arguing that many abortion clinics are in violation of state health and safety standards.

She said that the group was "very pleased" to see the Ohio ban become law, adding that it addresses "the deadly reality of abortion in America."

Critics of such legislation disagree with the characterization that 20-week abortion bans — a cutoff based on the much-challenged theory that fetuses feel pain at that stage — are aimed at protecting women's health. At that point in a pregnancy, said Kellie Copeland, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio, "access to care is critically important."

"The circumstances of each pregnancy can change," said Copeland. "If a women has made a decision with her doctor to end a pregnancy, she needs to have access to that care. She should not be forced to leave the state of Ohio."

Related: "Is Ohio 'Heartbeat' Bill a Feint Before More Successful Blow to Women's Rights?"

For over forty years, the Supreme Court has held that states cannot ban abortion before a fetus is viable, which happens around 24 weeks.

Ohio's 'Heartbeat' Bill Turns State Into New Abortion Battleground 1:42

Yet anti-abortion groups have long championed legislation at both the state and federal level that chips away at the precedent established by Roe v. Wade. Their hope is that with the right piece of legislation and political climate, the high court might rethink its current standard.

Twenty-week abortion bans — as opposed to stricter provisions, such as the so-called heartbeat bill which Kasich vetoed on Tuesday — appear to be targets for anti-abortion advocates looking ahead to Inauguration Day.

"By endorsing the 20-week ban in lieu of the heartbeat approach, Governor Kasich provided strong pro-life leadership to finally engage a winnable battle with the federal judiciary while saving countless babies at the same time," said Michael Gonidakis, president of the anti-abortion group Ohio Right to Life, in a statement.

John Seago, legislative director for Texas Right to Life, agreed that 20-week abortion bans marked "the right direction for the [anti-abortion] movement to go in."

"I do think it would present very dynamic challenges for the Supreme Court," Seago told NBC News of 20-week abortion bans. "They would make [the justices] reanalyze the premise to uphold elective abortion as a legal right."

He added that the next step in Texas, where abortion is already prohibited after 20 weeks, will be to pass a ban on a certain procedure used in second-trimester abortions that critics refer to as "dismemberment abortion."

"The ultimate goal," said Seago, "is to stop the injustice of elective abortion."

The number of abortions have declined steadily during the time President Obama has been in office, from 825,564 in 2008 to 664,435 in 2013, according to the most recent federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention figures.