The governor of Ohio and former presidential candidate John Kasich signed into law on Friday a controversial state bill that would ban abortions after a fetal diagnosis of Down syndrome.
The legislation, which cleared the GOP-led Legislature with some Republican opposition, makes it a crime for a doctor to end 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.
It makes performing an abortion in such cases a fourth-degree felony, which is punishable by up to 18 months in prison and requires the state medical board to revoke a convicted doctor’s license. Pregnant women involved in such procedures won’t be penalized. The law will go into effect in 90 days.
Kasich, despite signing the bill, has mentioned in the past that he had concerns about the bill being unconstitutional, according to Cincinnati.com. That led him to veto a separate bill in 2016, which proposed a ban on abortions done after six weeks of gestation.
The anti-abortion group Ohio Right to Life said that the bill’s signing into law was a victory. “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 on Friday.
Abortion rights groups in the state argued that the new law would be another blow to woman’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.”
“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 that Kasich had signed a “blatantly unconstitutional bill.” The civil rights group said it was 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.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.