Ohio Gov. John Kasich signs down syndrome abortion ban

Image: Ohio Governor John Kasich arrives at a press conference on March 30, 2016 in New York City.
Ohio Governor John Kasich arrives at a press conference on March 30, 2016 in New York City.Andrew Renneisen / Getty Images

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By Associated Press

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Ohio is prohibiting doctors from performing abortions based on a diagnosis of Down syndrome, joining other states with similarly strict legislation.

Republican Gov. John Kasich signed the legislation into law on Friday. Lawmakers had sent the bill to him earlier this month, in one of their last acts of the year.

The legislation, which cleared the GOP-led Legislature with some Republican opposition, makes it a crime for a doctor to terminate a pregnancy based on knowledge of Down syndrome, a genetic abnormality that causes developmental delays and medical conditions such as heart defects and respiratory and hearing problems.

Ohio Governor John Kasich arrives at a press conference on March 30, 2016 in New York City.Andrew Renneisen / Getty Images

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It makes performing an abortion in such cases a fourth-degree felony and requires the state medical board to revoke the physician's license if convicted. Pregnant women involved in such procedures won't be penalized.

Kasich's action was a victory for the anti-abortion group Ohio Right to Life, which argued it will prevent discrimination based on misinformation.

"Now that the Down Syndrome Non-Discrimination Act is law, unborn babies prenatally diagnosed with Down syndrome are given a shot at life" the group's president, Mike Gonidakis, said in a statement Friday.

Abortion rights groups argued the law would be another blow to women's constitutional right to legal abortion.

The executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio, Kellie Copeland, said the law does nothing to support families taking care of loved ones with Down syndrome but instead "exploits them as part of a larger anti-choice strategy to systematically make all abortion care illegal."

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"This law shames women and will have a chilling effect on the conversations between doctors and patients because of the criminal penalties that doctors will face," Copeland said.

A statement from the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio on Friday said Kasich signed a "blatantly unconstitutional bill." The civil rights group said it is coordinating with its legal staff and coalition partners to determine the next steps.

North Dakota and Indiana were ahead of Ohio in passing similar restrictions. The Indiana law has been blocked by a federal judge, who said the state has no right to limit women's reasons for terminating pregnancies.

The Indiana measure was enacted in 2016. North Dakota's went into effect in 2013 and has not been challenged. That state's sole abortion clinic, in Fargo, says the issue hasn't arisen under its policy of not performing abortions after 16 weeks into a pregnancy.