The U.S. bishops' conference released a statement today from Cardinal Justin Rigali in which he hails the 5-4 decision.
"Today, after a decade of struggle in legislatures and courts, the U.S. Supreme Court finally upheld a federal law prohibiting the brutal and inhumane partial birth abortion procedure. This is the first time in 34 years that the court has upheld a ban of any type of abortion," the cardinal said.
The Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act was passed by Congress and signed into law by President George Bush in 2003. It aimed to prohibit the particular abortion procedure which involves partially removing the fetus from the womb and then puncturing the skull and extracting the brain, then delivering the rest of the dead body.
Because of court challenges, the ban never went into effect.
Cardinal Rigali said that today's decision is a reason for hope for pro-life Americans.
"The court's decision does not affect the legal status of the great majority of abortions, and does not reverse past decisions claiming to find a right to abortion in the Constitution," Cardinal Rigali wrote. "However, it provides reasons for renewed hope and renewed effort on the part of pro-life Americans.
"The court is taking a clearer and more unobstructed look at the tragic reality of abortion, and speaking about that reality more candidly than it has in many years."
The cardinal, who is archbishop of Philadelphia, added: "Especially welcome is the court's explicit recognition of certain key facts: that abortion is the taking of a human life, and that government has a legitimate interest in protecting and preserving this life at every stage."
He further praised the court's recognition "that 'respect for human life finds an ultimate expression in the bond of love the mother has for her child'; that abortion may also cause grief and sorrow for women, which is only made worse when the reality of the procedure has been withheld from them until it is too late; and that the ethical integrity of the medical profession, as well as the fabric of our society, is threatened by the acceptance of practices that are difficult to distinguish from infanticide."
"The court also acknowledges that in some past decisions, the usual rules for constitutional review were distorted by an unwarranted hostility to legislative efforts to respect unborn human life," the 71-year-old cardinal added.
Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in the majority opinion that the opponents of the act "have not demonstrated that the act would be unconstitutional in a large fraction of relevant cases."
Bush's two appointees to the Supreme Court, Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito, sided with the majority. Also in the majority were Justices Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia.
Cardinal Rigali's statement concluded: "We hope today's decision marks the beginning of a new dialogue on abortion, in which fair-minded consideration will be given to the genuine interests of unborn children and their mothers, to the need for an ethically sound medical profession, and to society's desperate need for a foundation of respect for all human life."