A U.S. federal judge has blocked implementation of a law outlawing one particular type of late term abortion. The court order was handed down less than one hour after President Bush signed the measure into law.
The signing ceremony was a victory celebration for anti-abortion activists, who cheered as the president put pen to paper.
The new law bans a procedure they call partial birth abortion. President Bush called it an act of violence against children close to birth.
"Today, at last, the American people and our government have confronted the violence and come to the defense of the innocent child," he said.
But within an hour, a federal judge in the state of Nebraska issued a restraining order blocking the ban, setting the stage for a lengthy court battle on its constitutionality. In his comments to backers of the bill, the president left no doubt he is ready to fight.
"The executive branch will vigorously defend this law against any who would try to overturn it in the courts," he said.
The ban was a top priority for Republicans when they assumed control of the U.S. House of Representatives in 1995. Several versions cleared the legislature only to be vetoed by former President Bill Clinton, a supporter of abortion rights.
The bill signed into law by President Bush prohibits doctors from committing an "overt act" designed to kill a partially delivered fetus. The only exception is to save the life of the mother.
The president said the measure reflects the compassion and humanity of America.
"By acting to prevent this practice, the elected branches of our government have affirmed a basic standard of humanity: the duty of the strong to protect the weak," he said.
But the judge in Nebraska said he has problems with the ban because it does not allow the procedure if it is needed to protect the health of the mother. Judge Robert Kopf said in court before ruling that the law seems vague, and is "highly suspect."
His words heartened abortion rights groups which fear the measure could be the first step in a new campaign to ban all abortions in the United States.
The Supreme Court upheld the right to an abortion in 1973. The new partial birth law imposes the most far-reaching limits on abortion since the historic ruling in a case known as Roe versus Wade.