Ohio governor's veto of heartbeat abortion bill survives — but that could change

Despite coming up a single vote shy of reversing the veto, GOP leaders warned they "will have a supermajority that is pro-life in both chambers in the next General Assembly."
Image: A protester holds a hanger during a demonstration against a proposed Ohio bill that bans abortion once a fetal heartbeat is detected in Columbus on Dec. 12, 2018.
A protester holds a hanger during a demonstration against a proposed bill that bans abortion once a fetal heartbeat is detected in Columbus on Dec. 12, 2018. The bill was passed by members of the Ohio Senate, but outgoing Governor John Kasich has said he would veto the bill.Matthew Hatcher / Zuma Press

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By Associated Press

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Statehouse Republicans in Ohio came up a single vote shy Thursday of reversing a same-party governor's veto and imposing one of the most restrictive abortion laws in the country.

The outcome marked a victory for outgoing Republican Gov. John Kasich, a prospective 2020 presidential contender who has vetoed the so-called heartbeat bill twice in as many years. Kasich argued in a veto message last week that the law would be declared unconstitutional, but only after saddling the state with a costly court battle.

Republican Senate President Larry Obhof dismissed the cheers that broke out in his chamber after senators voted 19-13 to override the so-called heartbeat bill veto, when 20 votes were needed. The bill would have prohibited the procedure at the first detectable heartbeat, as early as six weeks into pregnancy.

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"I think that the celebration for some of the people in here will be short-lived," Obhof told reporters. "We will have a supermajority that is pro-life in both chambers in the next General Assembly — we're getting sworn in in less than two weeks, and we have a governor coming in who has said he would sign that bill."

Still, abortion rights activists bedecked in red and pink regalia claimed the vote as a victory. The bill's author, Janet Porter, declined a request for comment.

The failing Senate vote followed a successful override count in the Ohio House. The chamber mustered exactly the 60 votes necessary, but only after swiftly swearing in the 80-year-old father of a former state representative to take his seat and cast the deciding vote.

"What you see continuously with this bill — with the last-minute pushes, the never full sets of hearings, always last-minute hijinks — really proves that they know they don't have the will of the people with this bill," said Jaime Miracle of NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio. "It is just too extreme. Without exceptions for rape and incest, a 6-week abortion ban is blatantly unconstitutional."

That was what Kasich effectively said in his second veto message on the bill in as many years.

During the rare post-Christmas showdown, Ohio lawmakers did successfully override Kasich's vetoes of two other bills, one expanding gun-owner rights and another he opposed because it increased the pay of elected officials, including some incoming state officeholders.

"The governor doesn't always agree with the General Assembly's decisions — and on these issues he profoundly disagrees — but he, of course, respects its role in the process," spokesman Jon Keeling said in a statement.