Without comment, justices declined to hear the appeal from Norma McCorvey and thus dodged a highly charged political debate for now. McCorvey's protest of Texas' abortion ban led to the Roe v. Wade ruling establishing a constitutional right to abortion.
McCorvey, who says she now regrets her role in the decision, argued in court filings that the case should be heard again in light of evidence that abortion harms women.
The high court's move Tuesday wasn't surprising. A decision to reopen a case based on so-called "changed circumstances" is rare, and two lower courts had already refused to reconsider the ruling.
"This is not a surprise and it's not a reflection of what the Justices think about the issue," says CBSNews.com Legal Analyst Andrew Cohen. "The question in the case was simply whether the Court could re-open the case 30 years later and the answer was a resounding no."
The decision comes amid intense speculation over whether ailing Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist will retire this term. Liberal groups have vowed to fight any nominee replacing him that opposes the landmark ruling.
At least three justices, Rehnquist, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, have said Roe v. Wade was wrongly decided and should be overturned.
In its September ruling throwing out McCorvey's lawsuit, a three-judge panel of the New Orleans-based 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals had said that her claims were "moot," or no longer relevant, because Texas' abortion ban had long been repealed.
The last major abortion decision by the Supreme Court came in 2000, when the court ruled 5-4 to strike down Nebraska's ban on so-called "partial-birth" abortion because it failed to provide an exception to protect the mother's health.
The case is McCorvey v. Hill, 04-967.