WASHINGTON – The Supreme Court set the stage for a major fall showdown over abortion Tuesday when the justices agreed to decide whether Congress can ban so-called partial-birth abortions nationwide. It’s not new territory for the court, which in 2000 split 5-4 when it struck down a similar state ban because it lacked a health exception for women. But Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, who voted with the majority in that case, has been replaced by Justice Samuel Alito, whose views on abortion are widely expected to be more restrictive. The case could be the first in which Alito, with other court conservatives including new Chief Justice John G. Roberts, helps chart a more restrictive trajectory for the court’s handling of abortion laws. The case doesn’t directly address Roe v. Wade, the controversial 1973 ruling that struck down anti-abortion laws. But its outcome could indicate whether the court might allow limits on abortion that would affect the ease with which abortions can be obtained. “Almost certainly on the table here is an awful lot more than the federal partial-birth ban,” said David Garrow, a constitutional law expert who’s written extensively about abortion. Not only might […]

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