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Photograph: freeimages.com/Marcelo Gerpe

The US Supreme Court on Monday overturned two key parts of an abortion law passed by the state of Texas that opponents said was unconstitutional because it unduly restricted a woman's right to the procedure.

The 5-3 ruling - a win for abortion rights advocates - was the court's first decision on abortion in nine years. The procedure remains contentious in the United States more than 40 years after it was legalized.

The lawsuit challenged two parts of the Texas law. One requires doctors who work in abortion clinics to have the ability to admit patients to hospital; the other requires abortion clinics to have equipment and other facilities similar to those found in outpatient surgical centres.

Other states have passed similar restrictions, which supporters say are meant to protect patients. But abortion providers and medical associations say the rules are unnecessary and so expensive or hard to satisfy that they force clinics to close.

The court, which has had an open seat since the death of Justice Antonin Scalia in February, ruled that both the admitting privileges and surgical centre requirements place a substantial obstacle in the path of women seeking an abortion, in violation of the US Constitution.

US President Barack Obama praised the ruling, saying in a statement the restrictions "harm women's health and place an unconstitutional obstacle in the path of a woman's reproductive freedom."

The majority opinion was written by Justice Stephen Breyer, who wrote that the restrictions provided "few if any health benefits for women" while posing a substantial obstacle to women seeking abortions, creating an "undue burden" on their constitutional right.

Justices Anthony Kennedy, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan sided with the majority.

"Texas argues that [the law's] restrictions are constitutional because they protect the health of women who experience complications from abortions. In truth, complications from an abortion are both rare and rarely dangerous," Ginsburg wrote in concurring.

Challengers to the Texas law said it actually sought to close most abortion clinics in Texas. About half of all abortion clinics in the state closed after the law went into effect, and women complained that they had to travel out of state to find a clinic.

The state of Texas defended the law, arguing before the court in March that the requirements were intended to protect the health of a women undergoing an abortion. 

The dissenting justices - Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito and Chief Justice John Roberts - accused the majority of bending the rules because the case dealt with abortion.

Justice Clarence Thomas said the decision "perpetuates the court's habit of applying different rules to different constitutional rights – especially the putative right to abortion."

Roberts and Alito said they would have returned the case to lower courts to tailor a more limited remedy.

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