The US' top court has upheld a ban on the controversial late-term partial birth abortion procedure.
The Supreme Court upheld the ban by five to four
The Supreme Court's 5-4 ruling upholding the Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act does not violate a woman's constitutional right to an abortion.
The act was passed by Congress in 2003 and signed by President George W Bush.
Abortion opponents condemn the operation, in which the foetus is partially removed alive from the woman's uterus and then aborted.
This is the first time the nation's highest court has banned a specific procedure in a case of how, not whether, to perform an abortion, says correspondent Vanessa Heaney in Washington.
It is one of the most significant decisions since the landmark Roe-versus-Wade ruling in 1973 that gave women the basic constitutional right to abortion, our correspondent adds.
The upheld law makes it a crime for a doctor to carry out an abortion when an "entire foetal head" or "any part of the foetal trunk past the navel" is outside a woman's uterus, Reuters news agency reports.
Justice Anthony Kennedy said opponents "had not demonstrated that the Act would be unconstitutional in a large fraction of relevant cases".
But the court's four most liberal members dissented.
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who called the decision alarming, took the rare step of reading parts of her dissent.
"In candour, the Partial Birth Abortion Act and the court's defence of it cannot be understood as anything other than an effort to chip away at a right declared again and again by this court - and with increasing comprehension of its centrality to women's lives," she said.
Observers say the decision reflects the recent addition to the court of two conservative justices appointed by President Bush.
The Bush administration has defended the law as drawing a line between abortion and what they say is infanticide.
But abortion rights groups say the decision is a blow that could threaten most abortions after 12 weeks of pregnancy.
They say the procedure is sometimes the safest for a woman.
"This ruling flies in the face of 30 years of Supreme Court precedent and the best interest of women's health and safety," said Eve Gartner of Planned Parenthood Federation of America.
However, government lawyers and others who favour the ban, have said there are alternative and more widely used procedures that are still legal - which involves dismembering the foetus in the uterus.