The US Senate has voted through a bill banning so-called "partial birth" abortions, one of the most contentious issues in the country's abortion debate.
Abortion is a contentious issue in the US
The bill will now be sent to President George W Bush for him to sign.
It will become the first federal ban on a specific abortion method since a woman's constitutional right to have an abortion was established by the Supreme Court's Roe v Wade decision in 1973.
The legislation is expected to be challenged in court by opponents as soon as it is signed by the president.
The Senate voted through the bill on a vote of 64-34, and the House of Representatives had passed an identical bill by 281 votes to 142 earlier this month.
Both chambers are controlled by the Republicans.
"We believe that this bill is constitutionally sound and obviously very, very necessary in terms of who we are as a society," Republican Senator Rick Santorum, the bill's chief sponsor and one of the Senate's most outspoken opponents of abortion, told the New York Times newspaper.
But Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer told the newspaper the legislation "for the first time in history bans a medical procedure without making any exception for the health of the woman" and said it was "clearly going to be declared unconstitutional".
Partial birth abortions usually take place during the fifth or sixth month of pregnancy.
The procedure involves the extraction of the body of the foetus into the vagina before the contents of the skull are suctioned and the intact foetus is removed from the woman's body.
Many women who opt for "partial-birth" abortions do so because their foetuses have severe or fatal anomalies or because the pregnancy endangers their lives or health.
The legislation bans the destruction of the foetus when its head or a significant part of its body is outside of the mother, a rare procedure used in only a tiny proportion of abortions in the US.
Opponents say that the wording of the bill is open-ended enough that other forms of abortion could also be considered unlawful.
They argue that it does not allow exemptions for a woman's health, a caveat cited by former President Bill Clinton who twice vetoed similar legislation.
Read a selection of your comments below.
Come on now, how many PBAs are done because the mother's health is threatened? If there is a life-threatening illness there are other ways to end the pregnancy. Yes, perhaps the bill should be modified to allow for cases where there was no other medical alternative, but in all other instances a PBA is not a woman's right but rather a sign of her inhumanity. Reading the comments so far, does no-one care about the rights of the unborn, do you really say they have no rights at all?
R Cosier, Australia
This new bill is unnecessary! Ok, using this new method "partial abortion" is quite dangerous and if the mother survives and if the child survives who will take this child home? Nobody, the child would have to go to an orphanage. What if the child is never adopted? Will it be possible for the child to get a decent job? The child if it lives if it survives might hate their life anyways so they might kill themselves. It is better to die unknowing of anything than to die after such a painful experience.
Believe what you will; when it comes down to it, any form of abortion is murder. God decided to grant a miracle - a child, to that particular woman and to abort that miracle is to say you know better than He does, which is stupid and imbecilic. Any child is a gift, whether they have abnormalities or are perfectly healthy. If you don't want to the child, then give it up for adoption; at least then the child still lives. Girls and women should think before they have sex and need to be ready for the consequences. There should not be a choice - if women are stupid enough to get pregnant before they are married, then they obviously should not be trusted to make the right decision once they conceive. If it was a 'mistake,' so be it and live with it, don't make it worse. I believe the ban on partial abortion is making a great advancement for women and their well-being.
I am tired of the argument that partial birth abortion should be illegal because it is gruesome. Obviously the people who try to use this as sound logic aren't very familiar with medicine. In a normal heart transplant a doctor cuts through various layers of flesh, breaks the patients rib cage so that she or he may pry it apart, and proceeds to cut through arteries and veins and then replace the heart. Medicine is very often gruesome and painful if not outright disgusting. Simply because a person is inclined to turn up their nose at the procedure does not mean it should be banned.
It is about time an administration in the Great USA has done something about this terrible practice of partial-birth abortion. This practice is not ethical and cannot be associated with other forms of abortion or with the lack lustre argument of a woman's right to choose.
Is it really necessary to condone such a grotesque procedure in the name of women's rights? Surely men and women alike should focus on ensuring equal and adequate access to education, employment and healthcare for all and work on eliminating atrocities like abuse of the venerable in our society whether it be the elderly, women, children, mentally ill or even the unborn. While PBA is billed as a woman's right, surely the level of violence involved is destructive and not something to be championed?
I think abortion should be legal. It's the woman who is having the baby, not the president. Why should it be there choice? Yes, killing is a crime, but if the child in question doesn't even have a gender how much harm is it really going to do? I know someone who, if their mother hadn't had an abortion she and her mother wouldn't be alive today. Neither would her younger brother and sister. So is it better to kill one or to kill four? I think it is better to kill one than to kill four. This is infringing on our basic rights, the right to chose. I think if you are against abortions, then don't have one!
It both scares and embarrasses me that Americans, including myself, have allowed this Republican right wing regime to overturn every progressive legislation we've managed to put in place in the last half century. There is only one answer to this partial-abortion debate, being a woman, I will not be told what I can and can't do with my body no matter what the circumstance.
This is where our government gets into our personal live. Yes, killing is illegal, but that is something that a person makes a decision on, and a woman has the choice to have an abortion or not, and she is not necessarily a killer for it either. Where are the rights of women? Is this the respect that American society has for women? I also wonder how is the US Congress going to react to reports in the future of a high trend of illegal abortions performed in the country, and how will they combat that? How many women will have to die that way?
Any legislation on abortion is highly emotive but in this instance they are effectively making it illegal to have a life saving operation. If this bill does go through, can the family of the first woman to die as a direct result of this legislation have the President arrested for murder? This may sound like a silly question but would it be constitutionally possible in the USA to do this?
The first woman whose health is endangered because of not being allowed an abortion will show the problems of this bill. It's doomed to failure, I'd give it about a year.
Steven Quick, UK
I see a remarkable lack of awareness of what PBA actually involves. The baby is generally pulled out feet first until a good portion of its body is delivered and its head is still in the birth canal. The most risky part of the birth is over by then. At that point, it is killed by forcing forceps into its brain. Even if I was pro-choice, which I am not, I fail to see how that can be deemed safe for the mother. PBA is never necessary as a medical procedure. If the infant cannot be delivered naturally, whatever happened to the idea of c-section? PBA is just a particularly gruesome method of killing a child that, had it been conceived in a different mother, the doctors would be fighting to save.
I do not support the ban on the partial birth abortions when it comes to saving the life of the mother. The mother should definitely be the first consideration. Abortion is legal and should remain that way for the good of all women.
Phyllis McCorkle, USA
Politicians have no right interfering with procedures that belong to patients and their doctors. This is turning back the clock on civilization.
Jane Christ, USA-Switzerland
Certainly this is a sensitive issue with many strong feelings and arguments. I think it is hard though to argue for the destruction of a fully formed human being on the basis that because it has not emerged from the mother's body it is not covered by human rights.
I think as medical science continues to race ahead with ways of sustaining infant life outside the womb earlier and earlier during the pregnancy that current limits on abortion will become incompatible with accepted ethics and public morality. Defining birth as the legal starting point of human life is at variance with science. Human rights should be applied earlier.
John Squires, Ireland
Women must have the right to decide if to carry on a pregnancy which puts their life in danger. Also the government should consider that many families need assistance to be able to care for a child born with a deformity or disorder but most families are left alone. Before banning abortion, the government should consider the effect of banning such procedures to women.
Once again Republicans are treading where they have no business treading. This bill is a catalyst that will surely lead to future attempts to thwart the absolute right of women to control their bodies. Freedom of choice means supporting the individual right to control one's life and body, even if we don't agree with those choices.
USA via Taipei
No government has the right to interfere in the reproductive process of its citizenry. Women must have the right to decide what is good for them, their bodies and their health. Thank goodness I don't live in a fundamentalist country like the US!
I think this is disgusting, and women's rights should be upheld. Religion isn't supposed to affect the Governance of the US, but this shows it does, with the Republicans holding power in both houses. Abortion should be a basic human right.
"Woman's health" has come to mean many things and in most cases has nothing to do with a life threatening situation. I feel the ban is necessary to protect the unborn, ironically, against its natural care-giver!
John McNichols, Sweden
How much more grotesque can this procedure get? Abortions at six months? Why stop there? Why not let the baby be born and if the mother gets fed up with it, kill it at say, 18 months, two years, whatever? The argument has always been that a foetus is not a 'person' - but when does human life become a person? You could use the same argument for child killing - as the child has not yet developed the ability to walk, talk etc - it could be considered 'not human' until such stages were reached. The massive availability of contraception already give the woman 'a right to choose' - who is looking after the child's rights?
T Hedley, UK
The argument presented by T. Hedley is a very strong one and I, as a responsible adult, could not agree more that women should act before and not after the pregnancy happens. However, not all of us women have the access or the opportunity to be educated in such matters. To protect the rights of women in general we have to keep abortion legal. Regardless of our personal beliefs and actions, the choice has to be available. This latest move in the US is a leap backwards at the expense of women's rights.
T Hedley's comments miss the point. It is a woman's right to choose what happens to her body. Until the foetus is born and becomes, in law, a legal person it is medically dependent on its mother. A woman should not be forced to aliment a foetus she does not want especially if it endangers her health just as someone should not be forced to donate a kidney or bone marrow. If T Hedley's arguments are correct then as the act of conception can occur in a test tube, surely preventing conception will become immoral. Think of all those sperm and eggs that go to waste that have the potential to become people.
Alisdair Matheson, Scotland