A closely divided U.S. Supreme Court has upheld a ban on a controversial abortion procedure. VOA correspondent Meredith Buel has details from Washington.
In a ruling on one of the nation's most divisive and politically charged issues, the high court narrowly rejected challenges to the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act that President Bush signed into law in 2003 after its approval by the U.S. Congress, which at the time was led by the president's Republican Party.
The decision, by a five-to-four vote, marks the first time the nation's highest court has upheld a federal law banning a specific abortion procedure since its landmark Roe v. Wade ruling in 1973 that women have a basic constitutional right to an abortion.
White House spokeswoman Dana Perino read a statement from President Bush welcoming the decision.
"The Supreme Court's decision is an affirmation of the progress we have made over the past six years in protecting human dignity and upholding the sanctity of life," she said. "We will continue to work for the day when every child is welcomed in life and protected in law."
The law upheld by the court makes it a crime for a doctor to perform the procedure, which involves removing a fetus from a woman's uterus, then crushing or cutting its skull to complete the abortion. Doctors who advocate the procedure say it is sometimes the safest method to use to protect the health of the patient.
Abortion opponent Ann Scheidler of the Pro Life Action League hailed the decision.
"Public opinion has begun to turn and sees that abortion has not turned out to be the panacea, and the quick easy solution," she said. "Women have suffered a great deal because of abortion."
Kate Michelman, the former president of the National Abortion Rights Action League, or NARAL, says the Supreme Court's decision represents a major defeat.
"It is a dramatic setback for protecting the health of women," she said. "It is a dramatic setback for the privacy of the doctor-patient relationship."
Michelman says she is concerned the ruling may prompt new efforts at the state level to place more restrictions on abortion.
"They will incrementally, increasingly restrict a women's right to decide so that the ability of women to decide becomes meaningless as a practical matter," she said.
Ann Scheidler of the Pro Life Action League says the court's decision will give a major boost to opponents of abortion.
"I think it will be an encouragement to the pro-life community that has worked so hard for a really long time against so many defeats over the past three decades," she said.
The court's decisions are being watched closely since President Bush appointed the two newest justices.
Both of the new members, Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito, sided with the majority to uphold the ban on the abortion procedure.