In a highly anticipated ruling, a federal judge found the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act (search) unconstitutional Thursday because it does not include a health exception.

U.S. District Judge Richard C. Casey (search) in Manhattan said the Supreme Court (search) has made it clear that a law that prohibits the performance of a particular abortion procedure must include an exception to preserve a woman's life and health.

Casey issued the ruling two months after hearing closing arguments in the case.

A San Francisco judge has already declared the 2003 law unconstitutional, and a judge in Lincoln, Neb., is still considering the question. The three judges suspended the ban while they held the trials.

The law is aimed at stopping a procedure, usually performed during the second trimester of pregnancy, in which a fetus is partly delivered, its skull punctured and its brain removed, often by suction.

Opponents, including Republicans in Congress who pushed for the ban, call the procedure "partial-birth abortion," but abortion rights groups and many doctors refer to it as "intact dilation and evacuation."