A federal judge in San Francisco declared the Partial-Birth Abortion Act unconstitutional Tuesday in a case that applies to doctors who perform about half of abortions nationwide. US District Judge Phyllis Hamilton's ruling is the first in three lawsuits - the others are in Nebraska and New York - that challenges the federal law, which bans what doctors call "intact dilation and extraction." Justice Department attorneys argue that the process is inhumane; proponents say a woman's health during abortion is more important than how a fetus is terminated. Judge Hamilton's ruling is likely to be appealed to the Supreme Court.

The Defense Department and CIA used flawed computer modeling to determine which troops were exposed to chemical warfare agents in the first Gulf War, the General Accounting Office reported Tuesday. The modeling, investigators say, led to unreliable conclusions that no association exists between chemical weapons exposure and rates of hospitalization and death of Desert Storm veterans. The Defense Department refuses to accept a recommendation to stop using the modeling for studies on Gulf War illness.

Coal- and oil-fired power plants are top air pollutants in the US and Canada, the Commission for Environmental Cooperation reported Wednesday. In its eighth annual survey, the Montreal-based agency said power plants accounted for almost half of industrial air emissions in 2001.

Astronomers and sky watchers worldwide prepare to watch planet Venus cross the face of the sun June 8 for the first time in 122 years. The six-hour event will be visible sans telescope from Europe, the Middle East, and most of Asia and Africa, but not from the western US and only for a few hours after dawn from the rest of the country. As with a solar eclipse, scientists warn against looking at the sun without eye protection.

An Australian was named Miss Universe 2004 in Quito, Ecuador, Tuesday, before hundreds of millions of TV viewers worldwide. Shandi Finnessey, Miss USA, was crowned the first runner-up to Jennifer Hawkins, and the next three finalists represented Puerto Rico, Paraguay, and Trinidad & Tobago, respectively.

Federal officials began surveying damage left by at least 17 tornadoes Sunday that scattered debris across Indiana and into nearby states. Officials hope to compile a report of the damage, estimated in the millions of dollars, by week's end. Storms hit much of the East, including Delaware, where George Bush battled the elements Wednesday while boarding Air Force One.

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