AUSTIN, February 13, 2012 (LifeSiteNews.com) - A Texas law requiring women seeking an abortion to undergo an ultrasound went into effect Tuesday, despite a court challenge from pro-abortion opponents.

Under the new law, abortion doctors are required to perform an ultrasound and give women the option to see the ultrasound image and hear the child’s heartbeat. The mother may decline; however, the abortionist must describe her unborn child. Exceptions are made when the unborn child was conceived in rape or incest, or suffers from a severe disability.

Mothers must then observe a 24 hour waiting period before choosing to continue with the abortion, although the waiting period can be reduced to two hours if they live over 100 miles from an abortion clinic.

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A temporary injunction issued by District judge Sam Sparks had prevented the law from going into effect when it was passed last year. Sparks’ decision was overturned by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, but ended up back in his courtroom on an appeal by the Center for Reproductive Rights.

Sparks ruled that he could not stop the law from going into effect because he was bound by the Circuit Court’s decision, but reiterated his own stance that the law was a violation of a doctor’s free speech rights.

According to Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, Sparks’ position is in conflict with precedent set by the U.S. Supreme Court, which, he said, “plainly authorizes the state to regulate abortion procedures.”

State Sen. Dan Patrick, who authored the Texas bill, says its potential impact is enormous, partly because of the sheer number of abortions that occur in the state, about 75,000 a year.  Patrick estimated that the law could stop up to one in five abortions, saving about 15,000 lives a year.

“There’s no other piece of legislation anywhere else in the country that has that kind of impact,” he told the Houston Chronicle. “I don’t take credit for it. It’s God’s hands.”

Texas Right to Life director Elizabeth Graham says that Patrick’s estimate may even be conservative. According to Graham, pro-lifers who work with abortion-minded women report that 70 to 80% of such women choose life for their children after viewing ultrasound images.

“If the clinics are following the law according to its legislative intent, then we think the law could reduce the number of abortions in Texas by at least 30 percent,” she told MSNBC.

Opponents of the law are contending that women are not swayed by the sonogram images, some even claiming that they have been implementing it since October and have not noticed a decrease in the number of abortions.

Center for Reproductive Rights attorney Julie Rikelman does agree with the bill’s sponsor, however, that it is a unique piece of legislation. It is “the most extreme ultrasound-related law that is being enforced in the United States,” she said.