Ohio Gov. John Kasich is a GOP candidate for president. (Alex Holt for The Washington Post)

“Look, you know, I don’t make a lot of speeches about this. I am pro-life with the exceptions of rape, incest and the life of the mother.”

–Gov. John Kasich, interview on CNN, Feb. 15, 2016

Ohio is often considered a success story for opponents of abortion rights and an oppressive state for abortion-rights supporters. Yet voters listening to Kasich on the campaign trail may never know the significance of Ohio in the abortion debate. As he acknowledges, Kasich doesn’t like to like to talk about the issue or answer questions directly when asked about it.

That’s where we come in. We took a deeper look at Kasich’s record on passing laws related to women’s access to abortions and whether his record reflects his antiabortion view with the exceptions of rape, incest and the life of the mother.

The Facts

Kasich signed 17 antiabortion measures into law since he became Ohio governor in 2011. He defunded Planned Parenthood and banned abortions from public hospitals and from receiving public funding. Ohio Right to Life praised Kasich’s policies and credited them for the decline in abortions in the state (which mirrors national trends).

Ohio law requires counseling and a waiting period before a woman can get an abortion. During the counseling session, the patient receives information about fetal development and alternatives to abortion.

Kasich signed into law additional measures that abortion rights advocates say were designed to create barriers or to discourage women from getting abortions. For example, in 2013, Kasich signed into law a requirement for ultrasounds to be performed to look for a fetal heartbeat before a woman can have an abortion. If there is a fetal heartbeat, the doctor must offer a chance for the mother to listen to it or see an image.

Ohio has had restrictions on abortions since before Kasich. State law imposes bans on “non-therapeutic” abortions, defined as abortions “performed or induced when the life of the mother would not be endangered if the fetus were carried to term or when the pregnancy of the mother was not the result of rape or incest reported to a law enforcement agency.”

Abortion rights advocates and opponents in Ohio we spoke with explained that a “nontherapeutic abortion” generally refers to elective abortions for pregnancies that are not a result of rape or incest or that threaten the mother’s life. But such incidents are underreported to law enforcement, so abortion rights advocates view the reporting requirement as an additional barrier for victims of sexual assault or rape to get an abortion.

The “life of the mother” exception is much more restrictive than the broader “health of the mother” exception, which gives doctors flexibility to determine when a pregnancy poses a risk to the mother’s health. Under Ohio law, there must be a “medical emergency,” defined as a condition that “so complicates the woman’s pregnancy” that the woman has to be in imminent risk of death or “substantial and irreversible impairment of a major bodily function.”

One measure Kasich signed into law is not consistent with his stance against abortions except in cases of rape, incest or life of the mother: a 2011 law prohibiting women from getting an abortion after the fetal age of viability, generally pegged at 24 to 28 weeks from the first day of the woman’s last menstrual period. Post-viability abortions are banned unless the doctor decides the fetus can’t survive outside of the womb. There is an exception for life of the mother, but not for rape or incest.

But this restriction is consistent with most states. Only two states (Arkansas and Utah) have a rape and/or incest exception, according to data compiled by the Guttmacher Institute, a sexual and reproductive health policy organization. Forty-three states have some type of abortion ban after a certain point in the pregnancy.

“The statute operates on the reasonable assumption that a woman who has been subjected to rape or incest would have had an opportunity, well before the time that a child would be viable, to consider her options and decide whether or not to get an abortion,” said Rob Nichols, Kasich campaign spokesman.

Many of the abortion-related laws enacted under Kasich involve allocation of tax dollars and licensing requirements for providers. Laws relating to licensing regulations did not have exceptions for abortions in cases of rape, incest and life of the mother. Other laws do contain the three exceptions.

“Whether an exception to a regulation pertaining to abortion is appropriate depends on the nature of the regulation,” Nichols said. “For example, it would not make sense to add [those exceptions] to a law that required abortion clinics to have a backup generator or use sterile medical supplies. So you would not expect that all laws that could affect abortion in some way would have a rape or incest exception.”

Below are some of the major abortion-related laws Kasich passed and their impact on women’s access to abortions in cases of rape, incest or life of the mother:

  • House Bill 63 (2011): Requires Ohio minors to get court approval for an abortion if they do not have parental consent. If there is a medical emergency that threatens the life or physical health of the minor, the mother can bypass the court. There is not a separate exception for rape or incest because the mother can cite rape or incest as the reason why she believes having an abortion is in her best interest, Nichols said. This law requires judges to use a “clear and convincing evidence” standard, which is stricter than common standard of proof in civil cases, according to Guttmacher Institute.
  • House Bill 79 (2011): Bans  coverage in the Affordable Care Act health insurance exchange for nontherapeutic abortions.
  • State budget (2011): Bans use of public funds or facilities for nontherapeutic abortions.
  • State budget (2013): Contains several provisions relating to abortion, such has the requirement for ultrasound and fetal heartbeat testing. One of the major provisions effectively reduced the number of abortion clinics in the state. State law required abortion providers to have a transfer agreement with a hospital that can transfer a patient in case of an emergency. But this law banned public hospitals and abortion providers to enter into transfer agreements, reducing the number of hospitals abortion providers can use for transfer agreements.

When Kasich took office in 2011, 16 clinics offered surgical abortions. Eight have stopped performing surgical abortions or shut down since, and one clinic opened in 2015. Some clinics cited the 2013 transfer agreement legislation for their decision to close.

The 2013 bill set up a rape crisis fund, which Ohio Right to Life said reflected Kasich’s focus on the needs of women’s health and safety. But NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio noted that the bill banned rape crisis centers from receiving money through this fund if they counsel rape survivors about abortion. This provision includes an exception for the case of a medical emergency for the mother, but not for rape or incest.

The Pinocchio Test

Kasich’s policy decisions largely have been consistent with his antiabortion stance except in cases of rape, incest or endangerment to mother’s life. In general, the laws Kasich passed apply to “nontherapeutic abortions,” which are for pregnancies that were not a result of rape or incest reported to police, or that threaten the mother’s life. Abortion rights advocates argue this is a restrictive definition, because it creates a barrier for women who do not report such incidents to police.

There is one law that is not consistent with Kasich’s view, which is the ban on late-term abortions after the fetus is considered “viable,” meaning it can survive outside of the mother’s womb. This law does include an exception for the life of the mother, but does not include rape or incest. While this law could qualify Kasich for One Pinocchio, it’s worth noting that two out of 43 states that have a ban on late-term abortions explicitly list a rape or incest clause. And the reason, according to his campaign and abortion rights opponents, is the mother has up to five or six months to decide to abort the baby.

Still, Kasich’s claim that he is “pro-life with the exceptions of rape, incest and the life of the mother” doesn’t quite rise to the level of a Geppetto Checkmark, given some of the caveats we’ve explained above. It would be different from a fact-checking perspective if Kasich said or implied that every abortion-related law he signed included these exceptions. Perhaps that ambiguity is by design, since he prefers not to talk about his abortion-related policies. We will give this claim No Rating.

No Rating

(About our rating scale)

Send us facts to check by filling out this form

Check out our 2016 candidates fact-check page

Sign up for The Fact Checker weekly newsletter