Washington The Supreme Court's new conservative majority gave anti-abortion forces a landmark victory Wednesday in a 5-4 decision that bans a controversial abortion procedure nationwide and sets the stage for further restrictions.
It was a long-awaited and resounding win that abortion opponents had hoped to gain from a court pushed to the right by President Bush's appointees.
For the first time since the court established a woman's right to an abortion in 1973, the justices said the Constitution permits a nationwide prohibition on a specific abortion method. The court's liberal justices, in dissent, said the ruling chipped away at abortion rights.
The 5-4 decision written by Justice Anthony Kennedy said the Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act that Congress passed and Bush signed into law in 2003 does not violate a woman's constitutional right to an abortion.
Siding with Kennedy were Bush's appointees, Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito, along with Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas.
The law is constitutional despite not containing an exception that would allow the procedure if needed to preserve a woman's health, Kennedy said. "The law need not give abortion doctors unfettered choice in the course of their medical practice," he wrote in the majority opinion.
Doctors who violate the law could face up to two years in federal prison. The law has not taken effect, pending the outcome of the legal fight.
In dissent, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said the ruling "cannot be understood as anything other than an effort to chip away at a right declared again and again by this court."
It was the first time the court banned a specific procedure in a case over how - not whether - to perform an abortion.