Iowa governor signs 20-week abortion ban amid legal challenge
Image: Gov. Terry Branstad (R-Iowa), official portrait

Iowa Governor Terry Branstad on Friday signed into law a 20-week abortion ban that faces a legal challenge in the Midwestern state's supreme court.

The law, passed by Iowa's Republican-controlled House and Senate last month, bans abortions once a pregnancy reaches 20 weeks and stipulates a three-day waiting period before women can undergo any abortion.

The law does not make exceptions for instances of rape or incest but does allow for abortions if the mother's life or health is at risk.

"We have made some real progress this year by getting legislation passed that institutes the first 20-week abortion ban, and also establishes a three-day waiting period for women who seek an abortion," Ben Hammes, a spokesman for Branstad, a Republican, said on Friday.

"The pro-life movement is making tremendous strides in changing the hearts and minds, to return to a culture that once again respects human life."

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and Planned Parenthood, a group that provides family planning services, including abortions, challenged the waiting-period portion of the law in district court on Thursday, seeking an injunction, but a judge ruled against them.

The judge made the "right decision," in dismissing the injunction, Hammes said.

The groups have appealed the ruling to the Iowa Supreme Court, Veronica Fowler, a spokeswoman for the ACLU of Iowa, said on Friday.

Fowler declined to comment further, but on Thursday the ACLU said Iowa lawmakers and Branstad were putting politics ahead of women's health.

"It's disgraceful that extremist lawmakers and the politically driven Governor Branstad are willing to put women's lives on the line based on personal belief rather than facts, and the well-being of Iowa women," Rita Bettis, legal director of the ACLU of Iowa, said in a Thursday statement.

Women in the United States have the right under the Constitution to end a pregnancy, but abortion opponents have pushed for tougher regulations, particularly in conservative states.

There are 24 states that impose prohibitions on abortions after a certain number of weeks, according to the Guttmacher Institute, which tracks reproductive policy.

Seventeen of these states ban abortion at about 20 weeks.

In Tennessee, a bill similar to the Iowa measure was sent to the desk of that state's Republican governor on Wednesday to possibly be signed into law.

(Reporting by Timothy Mclaughlin in Chicago; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)