“Be careful what you wish for.” That was the message Ohio Governor John Kasich had for Donald Trump after Trump said in an interview Thursday that he hopes Kasich challenges him for the Republican nomination in 2020. But “be careful what you wish for” could easily double as advice for anyone holding out hope that Kasich would offer a “moderate” alternative to Trump if he does choose to run for president again. If you want proof, watch what happens when two extreme anti-abortion bills, passed by the Ohio state legislature late Thursday night, land on Kasich’s desk.
The first bill would ban abortion after a heartbeat is detected, which can be as early as six weeks — so early in a pregnancy that many women aren’t even aware they are pregnant — and impose serious criminal penalties on doctors who perform the procedure after that time. Reproductive rights advocates call it patently unconstitutional, and on that point Kasich tends to agree with them. He vetoed similar legislation in 2016, and he’s vowed he’ll veto this one, too. Back in 2016, Kasich called the intent of the law “clearly contrary to the Supreme Court of the United States’ current rulings on abortion.” Kasich doesn’t get a profile in courage award though: that same day two years ago, he signed into law a second bill outlawing abortion at 20 weeks — one of the more restrictive laws in the country, but moderate in comparison to the so-called “heartbeat bill.”
Now, with the nation’s eyes upon him, Kasich appears poised to pull the same gambit again — vetoing one extreme ban while signing another bill that is only the tiniest bit less Draconian. In this case, the second bill is one that would outlaw dilation and extraction, the most common procedure used for abortions in the second trimester, and open up the door to prosecuting doctors who perform them. (A federal court struck down a similar law in Alabama, declaring it unconstitutional.) Kasich hasn’t said whether or not he’ll sign the ban, but if his record as governor is any indication, there’s a good chance he will.
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Ohio has passed more than 20 anti-abortion restrictions since Kasich became the state’s governor in 2011. He’s signed a law defunding Planned Parenthood; laws requiring women to undergo medically unnecessary ultrasounds and attend counseling sessions before the procedure; a law requiring minors get their parents’ permission for the procedure and a law that forbids rape-crisis counselors from referring victims to abortion providers. During his tenure in office, half of Ohio’s abortion-providing women’s clinics have closed their doors.
Reproductive rights advocates, like Brigitte Amiri, deputy director of the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project, see the bills as the next step in a long-term plan for Ohio. “This shameless attempt to outlaw abortion is part of their overall strategy to take direct aim at Roe v. Wade after the change in the Supreme Court and after years of pushing measures that chip away at the right to abortion,” Amiri said in a statement.
Iris Harvey, president Planned Parenthood Advocates of Ohio, was apoplectic. “Let’s be clear — the abortion bans are equally extreme, take aim at Ohioans and families, and punish doctors for caring for their patients,” Harvey said in a statement. “We demand Governor Kasich stop both of these dangerous policies in their tracks. Every Ohioan deserves the right to control their own body, life, and future without politicians getting in the way. We will stand against these unconstitutional attacks on Ohioans and will use everything at our disposal to protect their access to safe, legal abortion.”
Kasich has 10 days to sign the bills. If he vetoes either, or both, the state legislature has until December 31st to override his decision. (Republicans would need a two-thirds majority in both chambers to do it.) And if it doesn’t pass this session, Republicans can always try again next year — Governor-elect Mike DeWine, a Republican, has promised to sign the so-called “heartbeat bill” once he’s in office.