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.