Texas teen slams new abortion law in high school graduation speech

·3-min read
A protester dressed as a handmaiden holds up a sign at a protest in Austin, Texas on May 29, 2021 against a new restrictive abortion bill, the same bill which teenager Paxton Smith decried in her graduation speech

A teenager in Texas slammed the US state's decision to ban abortion at six weeks as "gut-wrenching," "dehumanizing" and a "war" on women's rights during a defiant high school graduation speech that went viral.

Paxton Smith, valedictorian of her class at Lake Highlands High School in Dallas, had submitted a different speech for approval from the school.

But in a video of the speech posted online, she said she decided to talk about the new legislation instead because graduation is a day where people are "most inclined to listen to a voice like mine, a woman's voice."

"I have dreams and hopes and ambition. Every girl graduating today does. We have spent our entire lives working towards our future, and without our input and without our consent, our control over that future has been stripped away from us," she said to cheers from the audience.

"I hope that you can feel how gut-wrenching that is, I hope that you can feel how dehumanizing it is, to have the autonomy over your own body taken from you."

Texas governor Greg Abbott signed the bill on May 20 banning abortion at six weeks, a cut-off point that reproductive rights activists warn would ban the procedure before many women even know they are pregnant.

The law -- dubbed the "heartbeat bill" by proponents -- makes no exception for rape or incest and will make Texas one of the hardest states in the United States to get an abortion.

"I cannot give up this platform to promote complacency and peace when there is a war on my body and a war on my rights. A war on the rights of your mothers, a war on the rights of your sisters, a war on the rights of your daughters," Smith told her class. "We cannot stay silent."

At least 10 other Republican-led states have passed similar legislation banning abortions once a fetal heartbeat can be detected, which is usually around the sixth week of pregnancy.

All of the bills have been struck down by the courts because they violate Roe v. Wade, a landmark 1973 Supreme Court ruling that authorized abortion as long as the fetus is not yet able to survive outside of the womb, which happens at 22 to 24 weeks.

But the Supreme Court is due to hear a case that could challenge that decision, involving a Mississippi law that prohibits abortions after the 15th week of pregnancy except in cases of a medical emergency or a severe fetal abnormality.

It will be the first abortion case considered by the Supreme Court since former president Donald Trump cemented a conservative majority on the nine-member panel.

Abortion is a divisive issue in the United States, with strong opposition especially among evangelical Christians.

Smith's speech has won her praise online, including from Hillary Clinton, who ran against Trump in the 2016 presidential election.

"This took guts. Thank you for not staying silent, Paxton," Clinton tweeted.


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