WASHINGTON, April 18, 2007 -- For the first time today a sharply divided Supreme Court has upheld a ban on a specific abortion procedure.
In a 5-4 decision written by Justice Anthony Kennedy, the court upheld the partial-birth abortion ban that President Bush signed into law in 2003.
Kennedy wrote that the ban did not pose "an undue burden on a woman's right to abortion" and that it furthered the government's legitimate interest in promoting "respect for life, including life of the unborn."
A sharply written dissent by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg warned that the court's decision "deprives women of the right to make an autonomous choice, even at the expense of their safety."
Ginsburg, joined by the three other liberal justices, said the court's "hostility" to the abortion right guaranteed by Roe was "not concealed."
Today's decision will come as a devastating blow to abortion-rights activists who accuse conservatives of attempting to chip away at a woman's right to an abortion.
People for the American Way, a liberal activist group, released a statement saying, "The replacement of moderate Justice Sandra Day O'Connor with ultraconservative Justice Samuel Alito has brought the Court to the brink of judicial disaster."
The group said that Bush's Supreme Court nominees, John Roberts and Sam Alito, were "weakening American's rights and legal protections."
Conservatives, who believed that the Supreme Court had long undervalued the important government interest in protecting life, were overjoyed with the decision.
Jay Sekulow of the conservative American Center for Law and Justice released a statement saying, "By rejecting the lawsuits challenging the national ban, the high court demonstrated that this gruesome procedure has no place in the medical community."
Sekulow said that today's decision represented "an important shift" in the abortion debate.
The court reviewed two cases in making its decision.
In the first case, Gonzales vs. Carhart, four doctors, including Leroy Carhart, challenged the federal law banning partial-birth abortions, arguing that the banned procedure was safer than some other methods and that the act had no exception for the health of the mother.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit found the ban to be unconstitutional. Today's decision overturns that ruling.
Carhart was also a key player in the 2000 Supreme Court case Stenberg vs. Carhart in which that court, which included O'Connor, overturned a similar state ban.
In the second case, Gonzales vs. Planned Parenthood, Planned Parenthood won a challenge to the ban in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit. Planned Parenthood argued that the act was unconstitutional for its lack of a health exception but also because the act was "fatally overbroad."