The ruling sets the stage for additional restrictions on a woman’s right to choose. The court’s liberal justices, in dissent, called the decision alarming and said it chipped away at abortion rights. The 2003 law does not violate a woman’s constitutional right to an abortion, Kennedy said. Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas also were in the majority. 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 had not taken effect, pending the outcome of the legal fight. WASHINGTON – Bitterly divided most of the time, both sides in the abortion debate agreed on one thing Wednesday: Elections and Supreme Court nominees matter. President Bush’s two appointees, Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito, were part of the 5-4 majority that upheld the Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act and gave abortion foes the landmark victory they had been hoping for from the newly conservative court. Gone from the court was Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, her place taken last year by Alito. She had been in a 5-4 majority that struck down a state law banning the controversial abortion procedure seven years ago. Justice Anthony Kennedy, who penned an impassioned dissent in that case, wrote Wednesday’s opinion for a conservative majority allowing the first nationwide ban on an abortion procedure since the the Roe v. Wade decision upholding abortion rights in 1973. 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.” Dr. LeRoy Carhart, the Bellevue, Neb., doctor who challenged the federal ban, said, “I am afraid the Supreme Court has just opened the door to an all-out assault on” the 1973 ruling in Roe. Wade. The administration defended the law as drawing a bright line between abortion and infanticide. Reacting to the ruling, Bush said that it affirms the progress his administration has made to defend the “sanctity of life.” “I am pleased that the Supreme Court has upheld a law that prohibits the abhorrent procedure of partial birth abortion,” he said. “Today’s decision affirms that the Constitution does not stand in the way of the people’s representatives enacting laws reflecting the compassion and humanity of America.” It was the first time the court banned a specific procedure in a case over how – not whether – to perform an abortion. Abortion rights groups as well as the leading association of obstetricians and gynecologists have said the procedure sometimes is the safest for a woman. They also said that such a ruling could threaten most abortions after 12 weeks of pregnancy, although Kennedy said alternate, more widely used procedures remain legal. The outcome is likely to spur efforts at the state level to place more restrictions on abortions. “I applaud the Court for its ruling today, and my hope is that it sets the stage for further progress in the fight to ensure our nation’s laws respect the sanctity of unborn human life,” said Rep. John Boehner of Ohio, Republican leader in the House of Representatives. Jay Sekulow, a prominent abortion opponent who is chief counsel for the conservative American Center for Law and Justice, said, “This is the most monumental win on the abortion issue that we have ever had.” Said Nancy Northup, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights: “The impact of Sandra Day O’Connor’s retirement is painfully clear … The court has now kicked open the door for states to impose broader restrictions on access to abortions.” More than 1 million abortions are performed in the United States each year, according to recent statistics. Nearly 90 percent of those occur in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, and are not affected by Wednesday’s ruling. The Guttmacher Institute says 2,200 dilation and extraction procedures – the medical term most often used by doctors – were performed in 2000, the latest figures available. Six federal courts have said the law that was in focus Wednesday is an impermissible restriction on a woman’s constitutional right to an abortion. “Today’s decision is alarming,” Ginsburg wrote in dissent for the court’s liberal bloc. She said the ruling “refuses to take … seriously” previous Supreme Court decisions on abortion. Ginsburg said the latest decision “tolerates, indeed applauds, federal intervention to ban nationwide a procedure found necessary and proper in certain cases by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.” Ginsburg said that for the first time since the court established a woman’s right to an abortion in 1973, “the court blesses a prohibition with no exception safeguarding a woman’s health.” She was joined by Justices Stephen Breyer, David Souter and John Paul Stevens. The procedure at issue involves partially removing the fetus intact from a woman’s uterus, then crushing or cutting its skull to complete the abortion.160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!