By Randy Ludlow

While describing himself as a champion for the sanctity of life, Gov. John Kasich vetoed a bill Tuesday that would have forbidden abortions once a fetal heartbeat could be detected.

The second-term Republican, however, did sign into law a second bill, a GOP-backed lame-duck measure banning abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy -- providing an exception for saving the mother's life but none for rape or incest.

The Heartbeat Bill's foremost champion, Janet Porter of Faith2Action, immediately denounced Kasich's "betrayal of life" and promised a campaign to find the necessary votes in the House to override the governor's veto. The Senate's vote was veto-proof on what would have been the nation's most stringent abortion law.

In his veto message, Kasich said the Heartbeat Bill, which would have forbid abortions at about six weeks into pregnancy, was clearly unconstitutional under U.S. Supreme Court rulings and would have resulted in an expensive -- and losing -- court battle.

"I agree with Ohio Right to Life and other leading, pro-life advocates that Senate Bill 127 (the 20-week ban) is the best, most legally sound and sustainable approach to protecting the sanctity of human life," Kasich said. The new law forbids termination of "a human pregnancy of a pain-capable unborn child."

Abortion-rights supporters objected to both bans, while Ohio Right to Life members, who opposed the Heartbeat ban, welcomed what they viewed as the more-reasonable and more-likely-to-be-upheld restriction.

With the Heartbeat Bill folded into an unrelated measure, Kasich was able to use his line-item veto to remove the abortion language since it was accompanied by a $100,000 appropriation to create a task force. He signed the other portion of the bill, dealing with child-abuse reporting requirements, into law.

With exceptions for rape, incest and the mother's life, current state law forbids all abortions after 24 weeks while abortions between 20 and 24 weeks require a medical finding that the fetus is not viable. Only 145 of the nearly 21,000 abortions performed in Ohio last year occurred after 20 weeks.

The new abortion regulations, which will take effect in 90 days unless a court halts them, will make it a fourth-degree felony for a physician to perform an abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy when the fetus is viable. The crime is punishable by up to 18 months in prison. A conviction also would result in the loss of a physician's medical license.

Majority Republicans in the General Assembly passed both measures over Democratic objections during last week's lame-duck session, and Kasich acted within hours of the bills reaching his desk Tuesday.

Ohio Right to Life President Michael Gonidakis supported Kasich's decision to veto the Heartbeat Bill, which the group opposed. "The 20-week ban was nationally designed to be the vehicle to end abortion in America. It challenges the current national abortion standard and properly moves the legal needle from viability to the baby's ability to feel pain," Gonidakis said.

NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio Executive Director Kellie Copeland said, "John Kasich is treating women's health care like a game. He thinks that by vetoing one abortion ban Ohioans will not notice that he has signed another ... Once a woman has made the decision to end a pregnancy, she needs access to safe and legal abortion care in her community. Kasich's actions today will fall hardest on low-income women, women of color, and young women."

Iris Harvey, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Advocates of Ohio, said Kasich and legislators who support abortion restrictions "are intent on taking that right away."

"In his six years as governor, Kasich has systematically and incrementally enacted law after law to ban abortion in the state. ... Women are tired of politicians telling us what to do with our bodies."

GOP legislative leaders held open the possibility of returning before the end of the year to deal with any Kasich vetoes of legislation.

While the Heartbeat Bill cleared the Senate (21-10) by a veto-proof margin, it fell short in the House (56-39). Three-fifths or 60 lawmakers in the House would be needed to override a veto.

Porter, who lobbied for a Heartbeat Bill for years, said. "It's not over. We are two votes away from overriding Gov. Kasich's betrayal of life" in the House. Porter said she believes two legislators not present for last week's vote would vote to override Kasich's veto, leaving her shopping for two more votes in the House.

Franklin County Republican Reps. Mike Duffey of Worthington, Cheryl Grossman of Grove City and Stephanie Kunze of Hilliard voted against the Heartbeat Bill. Duffey, Grossman and Kunze also voted against the 20-week abortion ban. Rep. Anne Gonzales, R-Westerville, was not present for last week's vote, but she voted against a similar Heartbeat Bill passed by the House last year. Republican Reps. Terry Johnson of McDermott and Ron Maag of Lebanon were not present for last week's vote, but voted for the measure in 2015.

John Fortney, spokesman for Senate President Keith Faber, R-Celina, said: "This is a House bill, so any override consideration would have to begin in that chamber. If the House chooses to act, we'll have a discussion with the senators about how they'd like to proceed." House Republican leaders did not comment. Mustering enough lawmakers to reconvene within days of Christmas represents a serious logistical obstacle.

The Senate (23-8) and House (64-29) easily passed the ban on abortions after 20 weeks. Such a ban has been enacted by 13 states, but federal courts have declared such a law unconstitutional in two states.

Dispatch reporter Jim Siegel contributed to this story.

(c)2016 The Columbus Dispatch (Columbus, Ohio)