West Virginia Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin vetoed legislation Tuesday that would ban abortions at 20 weeks after conception, noting that the law would not pass constitutional muster.
It was the second time in two years that the Democrat vetoed bills that would make it more difficult for women to access abortion services.
"As reflected in my voting record during my time in the Legislature, I believe there is no greater gift of love than the gift of life," Tomblin said in a written statement. "As governor, I must take into consideration a number of factors when reviewing legislation, including its constitutionality.
"At the start of the regular session, I urged members of the legislature to consider a compromise that would help us establish legislation that would pass constitutional muster," he continued. "Having received a substantially similar bill to the one vetoed last year on constitutional grounds, I must veto House Bill 2568."
The Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act provides no exceptions for rape or incest and threatens to strip medical licenses from providers who perform abortions after 20 weeks. It is based on the premise that fetuses feel pain 20 weeks after conception, which is in dispute.
Federal judges have stopped similar pre-viability abortion bans in Texas, Arizona, Georgia, Arkansas and North Dakota.
On Tuesday, abortion rights groups hailed Tomblin's action and derided the bill as cruel and unconstitutional.
"The governor has recognized that politicians aren't medical experts, and they shouldn't be interfering in the decision a woman has made with her doctor and family," said Jennifer Dalven, director of the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project. "Even if we disagree about abortion, we can agree that it's better that each woman can make her own decision with those she trusts."
Legislators need only a simple majority to override Tomblin's veto.
"These cruel and dangerous measures are part of a broader effort to completely ban safe and legal abortion, and they are deeply unpopular with the majority of Americans," said Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America. "We'll continue to fight these attacks on behalf of the patients who rely on us, no matter what."
But Kristan Hawkins, president of Students for Life, objected to the veto and called on the West Virginia Legislature to override it.
Tomblin "should be ashamed of vetoing, for the second time, a bill that would have banned abortions after 20 weeks," Hawkins said in a written statement. "He cannot honestly say he believes life is a gift and then not sign a bill that protects innocent children from having their lives ended.
"He joins the shameful ranks of other elected officials," Hawkins continued, "like Rep. Renee Ellmers (R-NC), who say they are pro-life but fail to protect these little ones from agony."
According to the Guttmacher Institute, which supports abortion rights, states have enacted 231 laws restricting abortions in the last four years alone, a steep jump since the 2010 midterm elections. Just 26 were enacted in 2014, a Guttmacher report said in January, down from 70 in 2013.
"Nonetheless, the midterm election results provide good reason to be concerned about a renewed focus on restricting abortion in the upcoming 2015 legislative sessions," the Guttmacher analysis said. "Republicans will now control both legislative chambers in 30 states, three more than in 2014."
In Idaho, a bill that would ban doctors from prescribing abortion-inducing medication through telemedicine passed in the state House on a party-line vote, according to the Associated Press.