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DeWine signs ‘Heartbeat’ abortion bill into law

The bill bans abortions after the first detectable heartbeat. Opponents have vowed to sue.
FILE - In this March 5, 2019 file photo, Ohio Governor Mike DeWine enters the Ohio House chamber to deliver the Ohio State of the State address at the Ohio Statehouse. A divided federal appeals court Tuesday, March 12, 2019 upheld an Ohio anti-abortion law that blocks public money for Planned Parenthood. (AP Photo/Paul Vernon, File)

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Ohio’s governor signed a bill Thursday imposing one of the nation’s toughest abortion restrictions.

Republican Gov. Mike DeWine followed through on his pledge to sign the heartbeat bill. The bill cleared the state Legislature on Wednesday.

DeWine’s signature makes Ohio the sixth state to vote to ban abortions after the first detectable fetal heartbeat, which can come as early as five or six weeks into pregnancy, before many women know they’re pregnant.

Courts blocked heartbeat laws in two other states and a third is awaiting governor's action.

DeWine’s support for the bill breaks with his predecessor. Former Gov. John Kasich, a fellow Republican, twice vetoed it on grounds it was unconstitutional and would spark a costly court challenge.

Opponents have vowed to sue.

State Rep. Michele Lepore-Hagan, a Democrat from a storied Youngstown political family, shed tears during earlier debate, exasperated at a bill she said would harm Ohio and its future.

"I'm concerned that we will have companies that will choose not to locate here due to our oppressive laws. I'm concerned that doctors will leave the state of Ohio," she said. "I'm concerned that our kids are going to leave, that we're going to lose a large amount of young people who don't want to live in an oppressive atmosphere."

Opponents' protests did nothing to budge a largely closed-mouthed GOP majority on the committee. They appeared confident that prohibiting pregnancy termination once a fetal heartbeat is detected is the best thing for the unborn, for women and for the state. Republicans dominated an 11-7 party-line vote that sent the bill to the full House, where it's scheduled for a vote Wednesday.

State Rep. Candice Keller, a Middletown Republican, called the legislation "the most compassionate bill we've ever passed."

Keller rejected suggestions that everyone knows someone who has had, or will need, an abortion; that women will continue to have abortions, only unsafely; even that reproductive rights are about women rather than the men who impregnate them and the male doctors who abort those pregnancies.

“If we are really about empowering the women of Ohio and empowering the women of this country, we will begin to tell the truth about the abortion industry and the enormous amount of profit that is made on the backs of women,” she said.

The House's 56-39 vote sent the bill to the Ohio Senate, which agreed to House changes 18-13 before sending the bill to DeWine, a Republican who took office in January.

The earliest bans on heartbeat abortion, in Iowa and North Dakota, have been blocked by the courts. Three more states — Mississippi, Kentucky and Georgia — have more recently passed bills amid growing national momentum. The Georgia bill has not yet been signed by the governor.