The US Congress, controlled by a small Republican majority, gave final approval Tuesday to legislation banning a surgical procedure known as "partial-birth abortion."
The Senate voted for the measure 64-34, about one month after the House of Representatives adopted a similar version of the bill by a vote of 281-142.
The legislation marks the first restriction on the right of US women to have an abortion since the US Supreme Court's landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision.
The bill now goes to President George W. Bush, who said he was looking forward to signing it.
"I applaud the Senate for joining the House in passing the ban on partial-birth abortion," Bush said in a statement from Singapore where he is traveling.
"This is very important legislation that will end an abhorrent practice and continue to build a culture of life in America," he said.
The bill defines a partial-birth abortion as any termination of a pregnancy, in which the fetus, or its head, is taken outside the body of the mother before being killed.
The method is usually used in the fifth and sixth months of pregnancy. The bill would allow the technique if it were necessary to save a mother's life.
The vote followed a passionate debate, in which supporters of women's rights clashed head on with conservatives opposed, in most cases, to any termination of a pregnancy.
"The Congress has taken the first step to re-criminalize abortion," said Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein, a vocal advocate of abortion rights.
Her colleague from California, Barbara Boxer, urged senators to "stop playing doctors."
But conservative Republican Rick Santorum, a devout Catholic from Pennsylvania, said that it was clear to him that late-term abortions were "never medically necessary" and that they are much riskier than other abortion procedures.
His view carried the day, setting the stage for protracted court battles over the ban.
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