US governor signs foetal heartbeat law, setting stage for legal challenges

US governor signs foetal heartbeat law, setting stage for legal challenges This photo taken June 5, 2012, outside the statehouse in Columbus, Ohio, shows a large balloon in support of the "Heartbeat Bill." Photo: Ann Sanner / Associated Press

Ohio Governor Mike DeWine has signed a bill that would make it illegal to carry out an abortion once a foetal heartbeat is detected.

“The function of government is to protect the most vulnerable among us, those who do not have a voice. Government’s role should be to protect life from the beginning to the end, to protect those who cannot protect themselves, such as the elderly, the unborn, those who are sick, those who have mental illness or have an addiction,” Mr DeWine said at a mid-afternoon signing ceremony at the Ohio Statehouse on Thursday.

“The signing of this bill is consistent with that respect for life and to ability to sign protect those who cannot protect themselves,” added Mr DeWine, a Republican who is Catholic.

A foetal heartbeat can be detected as early as six weeks into a pregnancy.

Opponents of the measure, including American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio, have pledged to challenge the law in court.

The Ohio House on April 10 voted 56-40 in favour of the bill. Agreeing with the House’s changes in the legislation, the Senate adopted it a short time later, 18-13, sending it to Mr DeWine for his signature. Both votes occurred mostly along party lines with Republicans lined up in favour of it and Democrats opposed.

Under the law, doctors and others who perform an abortion after a heartbeat has been detected or who fail to do an abdominal or transvaginal ultrasound before an abortion face being charged with a fifth-degree felony punishable by six to 12 months in jail and a $2,500 fine.