An emotional, angrily divided Supreme Court yesterday limited the constitutional right to abortion it established in 1973, ruling 5 to 4 that states may impose substantial restrictions on the availability of abortions. Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, writing the lead opinion in one of the most widely anticipated decisions in recent court history, stopped short of overturning Roe v. Wade, the 1973 ruling establishing the right to abortion that both sides on the abortion issue felt was at stake in the case. But yesterday's ruling allows states to restrict abortions at any stage of pregnancy, including the first three months, and rejects what for 16 years had been a virtually unlimited constitutional right to abortion, at least in the first three months. To do this, Rehnquist said, it was necessary only to "modify and narrow Roe," not overturn it. The immediate impact of the decision in Webster v. Reproductive Health Services is limited to Missouri, where doctors will be required to begin testing fetuses to see if they can survive outside the womb. And the one public hospital in the state performing abortions will be required to stop. But the ruling now gives individual states the opportunity to place other restrictions on the ability to obtain an abortion -- a likelihood emphasized by Justice Harry A. Blackmun in an impassioned dissent, one of five opinions in the case. The ruling, he said, "implicitly invites every state legislature to enact more and more restrictive abortion regulations in order to provoke more and more test cases, in the hope that sometime down the line" Roe will be overturned. Blackmun, who wrote the majority opinion in Roe, read his dissent from the bench to a hushed courtroom. "For today, at least," he said, "the law of abortion stands undisturbed. For today, the women of this nation still retain the liberty to control their destinies. But the signs are evident and very ominous, and a chill wind blows." The court's decision ended months of speculation that sharply focused the deep emotions engendered by the abortion debate. The court had been expected to reveal its decision last Thursday on what was scheduled to be the last day of its term, and when it did not, Rehnquist said in a terse statement that remaining decisions would come Monday. When the decision was announced yesterday shortly after 10 a.m., the national reaction was predictably divided, with antiabortion forces claiming a historic victory and abortion-rights advocates arguing, in the words of Faye Wattleton, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, that as a result of the decision, "American women are less independent and less free." President Bush, vacationing in Kennebunkport, Maine, hailed the court ruling and called for further action "to restore to the people the ability to protect the unborn." But he also called on Americans on both sides of the issue to "express their deeply held convictions on this subject within the bounds of civility and our legal institutions." In its ruling, the court in effect eliminated the framework established in Roe that essentially barred the states from imposing restrictions during the first three months of pregnancy. States now will have the power to impose restrictions on abortion from the time of conception, not just after the fetus becomes able to live outside the womb, generally defined as about 24 to 28 weeks. Four justices would allow any restrictions that are reasonable to further what Rehnquist termed the state's interest in "protecting potential human life" from the moment of conception. But Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, who provided the pivotal vote for the majority, signaled that she would require a tougher standard than Rehnquist to uphold state regulations, saying the restrictions would be allowed so long as they were not "unduly burdensome" to women seeking abortions. O'Connor did not join a section of Rehnquist's opinion attacking the trimester framework. Rehnquist's opinion was joined in full by Justice Byron R. White, who like Rehnquist dissented in Roe, and by the newest justice, Anthony M. Kennedy, casting his first public vote on the abortion issue. A fourth justice, Antonin Scalia, urged the court to go further. He lambasted the "irrationality" of his colleagues for failing to do explicitly what he and Blackmun agreed Rehnquist's opinion would do implicitly -- overturn Roe -- "even if most of the justices think {Roe} is wrong." "It thus appears that the mansion of constitutionalized abortion law, constructed overnight in Roe v. Wade, must be disassembled door-jamb by door-jamb," he said, "and never entirely brought down, no matter how wrong it may be." O'Connor, in her concurring opinion, said the various provisions of the Missouri antiabortion law passed constitutional muster under Roe and subsequent rulings permitting the state to "promote its interest in human life when viability is possible." O'Connor, who with Kennedy was traveling in Britain and not present when the court convened yesterday, has been sharply critical of Roe in the past but has never said whether she would overturn a right to abortion. She maintained her silence yesterday, saying the case did not require the court to reach that fundamental issue. "When the constitutional invalidity of a state's abortion statute actually turns on the constitutional validity of Roe v. Wade," she said, "there will be enough time to reexamine Roe. And to do so carefully." She said, "I continue to consider . . . Roe's trimester framework . . . problematic." O'Connor's position, said Charles J. Cooper, a former Justice Department official in the Reagan administration, means that she "will be to abortion what Justice {Lewis F.} Powell was to affirmative action," determining the course of future rulings. The opinion yesterday did not say precisely what states could do in their regulations, but it seemed certain that many of the restrictions the court struck down in recent years -- such as required "waiting periods" or antiabortion counseling for women seeking abortions -- would now pass constitutional muster. And the court promptly agreed to resolve some of the remaining issues, saying it would hear three abortion cases next fall. Two cases, one from Ohio and another from Minnesota, involve laws requiring parental notification for minors wanting to obtain abortions. The third, from Illinois, involves regulations that abortion-rights groups say are aimed at shutting down abortion clinics by forcing them to spend needlessly large sums for compliance. Attorney General Dick Thornburgh, who in a friend of the court brief had formally placed the Justice Department in favor of allowing states to ban abortion, said: "Although today's decision does not expressly overrule Roe v. Wade as we sought, it is most welcome in that it recognizes an increased role for state legislatures in regulating abortion. I believe those of us opposed to abortion on demand can take heart that a majority of the justices have seen fit to give the states greater leeway in establishing appropriate limitations on abortion." Antiabortion groups hailed the decision. "This is a historic ruling," said John C. Willke, president of the National Right to Life Committee. "It begins the process of restoring a fundamental right to the American people -- the right to protect human life." Willke said that with yesterday's ruling, the first won by antiabortion groups this decade, "Now we see a halt in this genocidal movement . . . . We are hopeful and confident. We have our thumbs up. We are smiling." Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-N.J.), who heads the Congressional Pro-Life Caucus, said, "The majority decision permits the states to further disentangle and disassociate public funds and access from the destruction of unborn babies and is likely to lead to the enactment {of restrictive laws} along the lines deemed permissible by the high court." "If anybody in this country believes, because they didn't say the words 'overturn Roe v. Wade,' that we have anything left, they shouldn't be fooled," said Molly Yard, president of the National Organization for Women. "Essentially, they have begun to dismantle Roe v. Wade." "I do not think it's possible to exaggerate or minimize the tragic nature of what happened today. The court has dealt to Roe v. Wade a near-mortal blow," said Frank Susman, who argued the abortion-rights side in Webster. "It would appear from a fair reading of this case that there are no longer a majority of this court willing to uphold Roe v. Wade." Yesterday's ruling involved a law stating in its preamble that "the life of each human being begins at conception" and that "unborn children have protectable interests in life, health, and well-being." Although the preamble was extremely important symbolically to activists on both sides, Rehnquist said it "does not by its terms regulate abortion" and thus "can be read" simply as the state's expression of a philosophical preference for "childbirth over abortion." As a result, until the state courts further define the preamble or it is used in a concrete case, he said, "we . . . need not pass on the constitutionality of the . . . preamble." Rehnquist also dismissed as moot the section banning "counseling," saying that the state had defined that section so that it had no practical effect on doctors and nurses in discussing options with their patients. The two most controversial provisions were the ban on abortions in public facilities and the fetal-testing requirement. Rehnquist said prior court rulings, including one upholding an amendment approved by Congress that bans the use of Medicaid funds for abortion, would permit the Missouri ban even when the woman pays in full. "As in those cases," he said, "the state's decision here to use public facilities and staff to encourage childbirth over abortion 'places no governmental obstacle in the path of a woman who chooses to terminate her pregnancy.' " "Missouri's refusal to allow public employees to perform abortions in public hospitals," he said, "leaves a pregnant woman with the same choices as if the state had not chosen to operate any public hospitals at all. The challenged provisions only restrict a woman's ability to obtain an abortion to the extent that she chooses to use a physician affiliated with a public hospital." Blackmun, in dissent, said the court, by allowing the "public facility" definition in this case to apply to a private hospital on publicly leased land, was banning abortions in the one hospital in Missouri that did 97 percent of all hospital abortions after 16 weeks. The public facility ban, he said, "leaves the pregnant woman with far fewer choices, or, for those too sick or too poor to travel, perhaps no choice at all." "This aggressive and shameful infringement on the right of women to obtain abortions," he said, was "unsupported by any state interest." Rehnquist said the fetal-testing requirement was proper because the state "here has chosen viability as the point at which its interest in potential human life must be safeguarded . . . . It is true that the tests in question increase the expense of abortion, and regulate the discretion of the physician in determining the viability of the fetus. Since the tests will undoubtedly show in many cases that the fetus is not viable, the tests will have been performed for what were in fact second-trimester abortions. But we are satisfied that the requirement of these tests permissibly furthers the state's interest in potential human life." Blackmun, joined by Justices William J. Brennan Jr. and Thurgood Marshall, said that the fetal-testing requirement could have been upheld under Roe and objected to what he called an "aggressive misreading" of the state law made in order to "throw out Roe's trimester framework." Justice John Paul Stevens dissented separately while expressing agreement with Blackmun.