John Kasich’s anti-abortion bait and switch

More extreme abortion bans distract from anti-abortion lawmakers’ real strategy.

A room formally used as an examination room for abortions is seen at Choice Clinic, formerly Whole Woman’s Health Clinic, Monday, June 27, 2016, in Austin, Texas. CREDIT: AP/Eric Gay
A room formally used as an examination room for abortions is seen at Choice Clinic, formerly Whole Woman’s Health Clinic, Monday, June 27, 2016, in Austin, Texas. CREDIT: AP/Eric Gay

Ohio Gov. John Kasich vetoed a bill that would ban abortion at six weeks on Tuesday. On the same day, he signed a 20-week abortion ban into law.

Although some Ohio Republicans, buoyed by the prospect of a Donald Trump administration, argued that a six-week ban would survive the courts, the 20-week ban was always the main goal for pro-life groups and conservative lawmakers.

Anti-abortion activists and lawmakers have debated over whether to fight hard for more extreme bans or the more politically viable 20-week ban, but 20-week bans are the most popular restriction pushed by conservative lawmakers. The powerful pro-life group, National Right to Life Committee, is pushing for a 20-week ban on the federal level.

Under Roe v. Wade, the U.S. Supreme Court can’t ban an abortion before 24 weeks — when the fetus is viable — but Republicans hope the right case could push the court to consider a 20-week ban.


But a six-week ban would require two vacancies on the court, Ohio Right to Life president Mike Gonidakis, told NBC News’ Irin Carmon. He urged anti-abortion conservatives to be “patient and strategic.”

When the U.S. Supreme Court struck down an Idaho law banning abortion after 20 weeks in 2013, the National Right to Life Committee celebrated the ruling, according to the anti-abortion website, LifeNews, “because it provides an opportunity to get to the Supreme Court and to further water down Roe v. Wade.

Next to the six-week ban, the 20-week ban may seem far less extreme. Although the 20-week bill allows exceptions to protect the life of the mother, it does not allow exceptions for rape or serious fetal abnormalities.

In the end, the result may be more abortions, medical professionals have argued. During testimony before the Wisconsin legislature last year, Medical College of Wisconsin bioethicist Dr. Steven Leuthner said many women seek abortions after 20 weeks when they discover serious fetal abnormalities, and go to follow-up appointments that delay the abortion further. But under a 20-week ban, women would be pushed to terminate a pregnancy before they had all of the information, since the procedure would no longer available, Leuthner said.


Abortions at 20 weeks are rare. Just 1.3 percent of abortions are performed at or after 21 weeks, according to the Centers for Disease Control. But young women, low-income women, and rape survivors have more reasons to delay the procedure, and other kinds of abortion restrictions delay abortions further.

Parental consent and notification laws can delay abortions for young women, and many may not recognize they are pregnant until later in the pregnancy. Low-income women are hurt by anti-abortion laws that make their procedures more expensive and thus delay them further. Even some 20-week bans that say they offer exceptions to rape survivors nonetheless require women to have reported the crime to police, which two out of three survivors don’t do, according to RAINN.

The threat to abortion access will grow exponentially in the next month. Under a Trump administration, Republican-controlled Congress, and a more conservative U.S. Supreme Court, it is all but certain that Republicans will introduce a 20-week abortion ban.