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World News

High school student replaces graduation speech with attack on abortion ban brought in by Christian Texas governor

by Press Association

A U.S. high school leaver scrapped a graduation speech approved by her school and delivered an abortion rights call in its place.

Paxton Smith, the 2021 valedictorian at Lake Highlands High School in Dallas, submitted to school officials an address on the effect of the media on young minds.

But when she spoke at Sunday's graduation ceremony, she talked of the theft of her rights and those of her classmates by the "heartbeat bill", signed into law by Christian Texas governor Greg Abbott a week and a half before.

She told her class: "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. We cannot stay silent."

The new law outlaws any abortion after a first heartbeat can be detected. That could come as early as six weeks after conception when many women are unaware they are pregnant.

The law would also allow anyone to sue a Texas abortion provider or anyone who helped someone get an abortion, for as much as 10,000 dollars (£7,000).

Ms Smith said: "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.

"I am terrified that if my contraceptives fail, I am terrified that if I am raped, then my hopes and aspirations and dreams and efforts for my future will no longer matter.

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

Video of her address was posted on social media and retweeted broadly.

Comedian Sarah Silverman described the speech was "brave", and former Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton wrote: "This took guts. Thank you for not staying silent, Paxton."

Richardson Independent School District, of which Lake Highlands is part, said officials will review student speech protocols before next year's graduation ceremonies.

"The content of each student speaker's message is the private, voluntary expression of the individual student and does not reflect the endorsement, sponsorship, position or expression of the district or its employees," it said in a statement.

Gov. Greg Abbott signed a law that bans abortion at 6 weeks. The law is scheduled to take effect in September.

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