Viral high school graduate on front lines of abortion debate

In her valedictorian speech, 18-year-old Paxton Smith denounced Texas’ new law, which bans abortion after around six weeks. She’s one of many young people getting involved in the nationwide debate.
10:20 | 06/08/21

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Transcript for Viral high school graduate on front lines of abortion debate
We're not going back! Paxton Smith is a rookie when it comes to abortion rights rallies. I'm furious as children, we're the ones advocating for our rights. Reporter: In less than a week, this 18-year-old catapulted on to center stage of America's fiercest fight in politics. Already she's feeling the heat from the other side. We are the pro-life generation and we will abolish abortion. Young anti-abortion rights activists like Sarah Zarr are just as energized. So your goal is to end abortion full stop? We want to make abortion illegal and unthinkable in our lifetime. Reporter: It was this high school graduation speech that brought both sides to the Texas state capitol. I have dreams and hopes and ambitions. Every girl graduating today does. In front of a crowd of thousands, the Dallas area valedictorian swapping out her preapproved speech for a heartfelt plea. I am terrified that if my contraceptives fail, I'm terrified that if I am raped, then my hopes and aspirations and dreams and efforts for my future will no longer matter. Paxton denouncing Texas' brand-new law criminalizing abortions at around six weeks, long before most women even know they're pregnant. With every sentence, it was kind of like a little milestone. Okay, whoa, I just made it through that sentence. I just got through another sentence. Because you thought they were going to cut the mic? Absolutely. I hope that you can feel how gut-wrenching that is. I hope you can feel how dehumanizing it is to have the autonomy over your own body taken away from you. Towards the end of the speech, I looked to the side and there was a lady standing on the stage, and she was going like this very aggressively, which my guess is that was a signal to cut the microphone. Paxton part of the youngest generation joining the age old battle over abortion in America. You knew you were breaking the rules. Yes. I was definitely afraid of any backlash, but at the end of the day, it felt like it was the right thing to do to make that speech. And I want was something that had to be said. Reporter: The new Texas law was signed just weeks ago by governor Greg Abbott. Banning abortions after a fetal heartbeat has been detected. At that age there might be electrical impulses, but it's not a heart beat. I think they use that on purpose to pull at people's heart strings. Reporter: The law does not make exceptions for rape or incest, and it allows lawsuits to be filed by anyone and against anyone who helps a woman get an abortion. The physician, the person who pays for the procedure, even someone who simply drives the woman to the appointment. I said okay, I have this platform that nobody else has. I need to speak up. Paxton's speech striking a nerve, going viral online. Shared by women and teens everywhere. Including Hillary Clinton. That's when I got an inkling that this was going to go very far. Afterwards, even when she says her diploma was threatened, she stood firm. I wasn't afraid. How can I regret doing the right thing? Paxton's stepmom says she raised her daughter to think for herself. I do think there is this outside perception that oh, there must be adults manipulating the situation. Have you met paxton? Absolutely not. Paxton has always been -- she marches to her own drum and drumbeat. We are -- But there are plenty who are challenging paxton's convictions. 22-year-old Melanie Salazar is marching for students for life. Abortion -- Counter protesting here and roughly a thousand campuses from middle schools to colleges across the country. Do you feel like there is a point to being a counter protester? We show up, we can show there is another side and start dialogue and a conversation. Do you ever feel you're going change hearts and minds, though, Yeah, I definitely don't think a rally or a protest is the place to try to have dialogue. It's more of the place to make a statement. I first Melanie last fall when she was part of scota squad, rallying for the nomination of Amy coney Barrett to the supreme court. We're excited for our girl Amy to come. What does that mean to you in terms of being at the confirmation hearing? We wanted it confirmed and ideally we want her to be a part of overturning roe V. Wade. Melanie says she's lost friends over her stance on abortion. People may just lump someone into a category of you are pro-life equals you are also X, Y, and Z, and also somehow means they forget the rest of my identity, which like I like horror movies, and like to dance, and I love roller skating. Thank you. Paxton Smith. She is in many ways has gone viral because there is this sense that young people today are in favor of abortion rights. I take it you disagree with that notion? Actually, the young people have been the ones here 8:00 A.M. To almost midnight. And I never saw the pro-abortion advocates who I saw today at the She also raised concerns about the fact there is no carve-out for rape or incest. I'm actually a survivor of sexual abuse. And so the truth is that abortion on top of rape and trauma on top of trauma leads to more hurt and needs more healing. And it takes longer than nine months to heal from an abortion. If you had gotten pregnant, you would be okay with having carried out a pregnancy and carrying that child to term? Yeah. The way how I see it is that abortion is the greatest form of child abuse. And I would want any form of punishment to be put on the perpetrator and no an innocent human being. And yet more young people tend to be in favor of reproductive freedoms than not. In fact, 61% of 18 to 29-year-olds support abortion rights, the highest percentage of support since 1995. Stand up. Fight back! Kids are jumping into the fray at younger age, in part because of social media. May I introduce to you miss Vienna. Meet Vienna, the 12-year-old behind this rally. She may need an assist to reach the microphone, but needs no help speaking her mind. Never in a million years would I have imagined organizing a rally to protest something that should be a basic human right. This sixth grader is inspired by paxton's courage. You must be wondering why a 12-year-old girl is leading this March. According to kids health, most girls get their period between 10 and 15. So what that means is 10 and 15-year-olds can in fact get pregnant. Vienna and her mom are well aware that in a traditionally conservative state like Texas -- And women deserve better! Backlash is a reality. I don't want to show my face because some anti-abortionists are very violent and aggressive. Do you understand how aggressive and inappropriate this is when this is a 12-year-old who organized this I think you guys can have your own rally another time. Thinking woman is touching my please let go of my property. Young people are -- Amy is an abortion rights activist and grew up deeply familiar with the risks that come with it. My dad was an abortion provider who wore a kevlar vest to work. He knew how important it was for people to be able to control their bodies, to be able to control their futures. Texas has been at the heart of this culture war for half a century. Power to the women! It's where the landmark roe V. Wade case originated in 1970. A 2013 law that restricted how abortion clinics could operate resulted in the closure of nearly half of Texas' clinics before it was struck down by the supreme court in 2016. People have gotten kind of complacent about the fact that states are chipping away at the rights. In Texas we have over 28 restrictions. Texas' new abortion law is unlikely to be overturned at this point. But it may also be difficult to enforce. If we do see this law go into effect, we could well I think see the courts in Texas clogged up with these kinds of lawsuits. And equally importantly, we could see abortion providers in Texas deterred from even performing abortions. This bill is enforced by any person that feels like someone has aided and abetted abortion care. And that means just any person off the street. Regardless of what happens in Texas, a bigger battle looms on the horizon. Next year, the U.S. Supreme court set to take up a Mississippi law that would ban virtually all abortions after 15 weeks. The case out of Mississippi is not as extreme a ban as the Texas ban. So if the supreme court upholds that Mississippi law, I think it's going to be the end of the roe era in many respects. I think that it's really scary because we don't know what a 6-3 anti-abortion majority will do, despite the fact that there are 50 years of precedent protecting abortion rights. 50 years, as well as popular support across the country. Six in every ten Americans favor upholding roe V. Wade. As paxton's speech continues to reverberate, her school district says they will review student speech protocols ahead of future graduations, and that valedictorian speeches don't reflect the school's position or that of its employees. As for paxton, she's growing into her new identity as a leader and a role model. She's got it. Sometimes it feels like no one is listening because you're so young, but you took advantage of your young voice and you put this entire thing together. And that takes a lot of courage. You're never too young to be

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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