Anti-abortion groups hailed Wednesday’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling upholding a national ban on “partial-birth” abortion as a major victory and a step toward overturning Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision that established a woman’s constitutional right to abortion.

In a 5-4 decision, justices reversed a ruling seven years ago that struck down a nearly identical Nebraska law because it lacked required protection for the woman’s health. It was the first major abortion case to come before new Chief Justice John Roberts and Associate Justice Samuel Alito, perhaps signaling on where they might come down in a challenge to Roe v. Wade.

Roberts and Alito, along with conservative Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, joined a majority opinion written by Justice Anthony Kennedy, rejecting arguments that the Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act signed into law by President Bush in 2003 is “overbroad,” meaning vague language could unintentionally infringe on constitutionally permissible activity, or that it places an “undue burden” on a woman’s right to abortion by lacking specific mention of a woman’s health.

That is because, Kennedy said, there is “documented medical disagreement” on whether the act’s prohibition would impose “significant health risks” for women.

Dissenting Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, joined by Justices John Paul Steven, David Souter and Stephen Breyer, called the decision “alarming.”

Priests for Life applauded the ruling in consolidated cases titled Gonzales v. Carhart and Gonzales v. Planned Parenthood. “We are grateful to all who worked so hard to pass this law and to educate the public about this unspeakably violent procedure,” Father Frank Pavone said in a statement.

Operation Rescue President Troy Newman called the ruling “the first legal crack in the crumbling Roe v. Wade foundation, and is the first, necessary step toward banning the horrific practice of abortion in this nation.”

“If partial-birth abortions are unconstitutional, then all abortion should be as well,” Newman said. “There is little difference between a second-trimester partial-birth abortion and a 12-week suction abortion. In fact, the suction abortion is probably more gruesome because it involves complete dismemberment of a live baby.”

“Partial-birth abortion” refers to a medical procedure known as intact dilation and extraction. It was developed in 1983 as an alternative in late-term abortions to a more-common procedure called dilation and evacuation. In D&E, the cervix is dilated and the fetus is dismembered and removed with forceps or suction.

Dilation and extraction, in contrast allows the fetus to be remove in one piece, by collapsing the skull, allowing removal of the otherwise intact fetus through the birth canal. Some doctors believe it is safer for the woman in second- and third-trimester abortions, because it does not require entering sharp instruments into the womb and is less likely to leave behind bone fragments large enough to injure the uterus.

Opponents to the practice, however, contend it is closer to infanticide than abortion.

Focus on the Family Action Chairman James Dobson praised the Supreme Court for “banning the Nazi-esque barbarism that is partial-birth abortion.”

“A majority of justices have recognized what most Americans have long known,” Dobson said, “There is no constitutional right to slay a healthy, nearly-born baby by stabbing it in the back of the head and vacuuming out its brains–all without even anesthetizing the child.”

Dobson said Wedneday’s ruling “ends more than a decade of effort by the pro-life community to ban this assault on mother and child. We applaud the court for joining President Bush and Congress in declaring that a civilized society does not condone such compassionless and hideous acts against human beings.”

Christian Coalition president Roberta Combs called it “just a matter of time” before the Supreme Court also strikes down Roe v. Wade.

The American Center for Law and Justice called it “a monumental victory for the preservation of human life. The ACLJ, founded by Pat Robertson, filed amicus briefs in both cases before the Supreme Court, including one on behalf of some 80 members of Congress and more than 320,000 Americans.

Dr. Paul Schenck, executive director of the National Pro-life Action Center on Capitol Hill, said the court has “laid the first blow to Roe v. Wade and its putrefying spawn.”

Planned Parenthood condemned the court’s decision, the first-ever federal ban on an abortion method without an exception for the woman’s healthy.

“The American public should be absolutely outraged by this unprecedented and dangerous intrusion into the private relationship between a woman and her doctor,” said Joan Malin, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of New York City. “Today five men with a gavel–two of whom were handpicked by George W. Bush–decided that they know more about medicine than do doctors.”

Malin said, “We have never before seen such a politically motivated and unwarranted invasion into the private relationship between a woman and her doctor.”

Nancy Keenan, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, said the decision shows “Bush’s appointees have moved the Court in a direction that could further undermine Roe v. Wade and protections for women’s health.”

“The door is now open for politicians like George W. Bush to interfere even more in our personal, private medical decisions,” Keenan said. “The Court has given anti-choice state lawmakers the green light to open the flood gates and launch additional attacks on safe, legal abortion, without any regard for women’s health.”

Carlton Veazey, president of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, told Religion News Service he plans to mobilize religious abortion-rights proponents to counter attempts to further regulate abortion.

“This decision will have a chilling effect upon all abortions and we believe as a religious coalition that women have a right to determine when and whether to have children,” he said.

Bob Allen is managing editor of

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