A bill prohibiting public funds from being used for most abortions has become law in Oklahoma after a deadline passed for the state's governor to veto the measure.

"If the governor doesn't act, it becomes law," said his spokesman, Phil Bacharach. Gov. Brad Henry had until midnight on Wednesday night to veto the bill.

Henry, a Democrat, vetoed a previous bill that contained no exceptions for publicly funded abortions even in cases of rape or incest. The new version allows such an exception if the victim reports the crime to the police.

It easily passed the Republican-controlled House and got through the evenly divided state Senate with several votes from Democratic lawmakers.

Its passage is a victory for social conservatives who have been pressing nationwide for restrictions on abortions. Such moves are generally challenged in court by groups that support a woman's right to choice on the matter.

"Virtually every hospital in the state of Oklahoma will no longer be allowed to do it. If you live in rural Oklahoma, your hospital probably receives state funding," said Linda Gray Murphy, a lobbyist with the National Association of Social Workers, who worked to the defeat the legislation.

Abortion has emerged as one of the most divisive issues in the United States. Its staunchest opponents include evangelical Christians who are an important base of support for the Republican Party. Strong opposition also comes from the Roman Catholic Church and some other religious groups.

Opinion polls consistently show that most Americans broadly support abortion rights but are less comfortable when it comes to issues like late-term abortions.