SAN FRANCISCO — A federal judge Thursday issued an injunction against the new federal law banning what some call "partial-birth abortion," saying the controversial legislation suffered a "constitutional infirmity."
The temporary restraining order passed down by U.S. District Judge Phyllis Hamilton was the third court triumph for abortion-rights advocates since President Bush signed the legislation Wednesday.
Earlier Thursday, a New York federal judge barred enforcement of the ban against members of the National Abortion Federation, which includes nearly half of the nation's abortion doctors. And just minutes after Bush signed the abortion legislation Wednesday, a judge in Lincoln, Neb., issued an injunction in favor of four doctors -- together licensed in 13 states across the Midwest -- who sued to avoid civil or criminal penalties for performing the abortions.
The San Francisco ruling affects doctors at 900 Planned Parenthood clinics nationwide. Added to the New York decision, it will protect a majority of all abortion providers in the United States, activists said.
"We got our injunction," beamed Erin Brooks, a spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood Golden Gate. She said the law was overly broad and provided no exemptions for a woman's health.
"We're obviously encouraged about receiving this restraining order so we can provide better medical care for our patients," Brooks said.
Abortion advocates describe the new law as the most significant restriction against abortion in three decades.
The law imposes a two-year prison sentence on physicians who perform the procedure. It is generally performed in the second trimester as part of a type of abortion physicians call "dilation and extraction."
Former President Clinton had twice vetoed similar bills.
On Thursday, Judge Hamilton described the law as "an undue burden on a woman's right to choose."
In court briefs filed in San Francisco, Justice Department officials described the procedure as "extreme and unnecessary," asserting that "Congress properly exercised its constitutional authority to evaluate the medical evidence."
But in New York, Judge Richard Conway Casey noted in his order that the medical community and even Congress remained conflicted about the procedure. "It is substantially likely that plaintiffs will succeed on the merits," Casey wrote, adding that the plaintiffs would suffer irreparable harm without an injunction.
"This is a very good day," Beth Parker, a lawyer for Planned Parenthood who appeared in court before Hamilton on Thursday, said, adding that the San Francisco decision would have an effect nationwide.
"What the judges are saying," she said, "is that the Supreme Court has already held that this type of ban is unconstitutional and neither Congress nor the Bush administration can override that decision."
Times wire services contributed to this report.