‘It affects me, my sister, my friends’: Meet the 12 and 18-year-olds fighting the Texas abortion ban

12-year-old Vienna (left) and 18-year-old Paxton (right) are fighting what they call their home state's 'harmful' abortion ban. They say the law endangers women seeking abortions, in a state with one of the highest teenage pregnancy rates in the US. Credit: Family of Vienna; Instagram/@paxtonsmith

By ITV News Multimedia Producer Will Tullis

Young female activists fighting the Texas abortion ban have told ITV News that the laws affect them, their friends, and their sisters, ahead of one of the most important legal hearings on reproductive rights in a generation.

The activists, aged just 12 and 18-years-old, said they are "terrified" about what the laws - that ban most abortions - mean for women's health and for the future of the United States.

Their comments come a week before the US Supreme Court in Washington DC hears arguments in a landmark case that could effectively prevent the right to terminate a pregnancy in a number of states across the nation.

The repercussions could be felt nationwide as more states act on the judgement and seek to rollback abortion rights.

Vienna, a 12-year-old reproductive rights activist from Austin, told ITV News that abortion is a youth issue, whether Texas lawmakers like it or not.

“As long as you can have your period, you can get pregnant”, she said.

“That means [the new abortion law] affects me, my friends, and will affect my younger sister too.”

18-year-old Paxton Smith, from Dallas, tore up her pre-approved high school graduation speech to condemn what she calls the "harmful" and "horrific" new laws in her home state.

"This is a war on women's bodies", she told ITV News.

"Women will be harmed and women will suffer under [the Texas abortion laws]."

When did the Texas abortion ban come into force and what does it mean for the US?

The battle over abortion was reignited in May after Texas passed a new law that some have called one of the harshest reproductive laws in American history, in effect ushering in a backdoor ban on the practice.

The southern US state banned terminations from six weeks into pregnancy, in a move that women’s rights groups, and some medical experts, have called “dangerous” and “shameful”.

Since 1973, women across the US have had the right to abortion up to the point a foetus can survive outside the womb. This is usually about 22 to 24 weeks into a pregnancy.

But under new legislation, women are banned from getting an abortion from the moment a so-called “foetal heartbeat” is detected – a concept some doctors say is misleading. Texas Republican supporters of the bill have hailed the new abortion laws as "protecting life".

A mother and her daughter (pictured) protested against the new abortion laws outside the Supreme Court at the start of November. Credit: AP

Texans are now able to sue any doctor who carries out an abortion after six weeks. Earlier in November the Supreme Court justices heard arguments in challenges to the Texas law and a decision is expected any week.

Next Wednesday, the Supreme Court will hear arguments in a case involving a Mississippi State law that bans almost all abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy. If the State of Mississippi wins this case, protections for women seeking to terminate a pregnancy - that were guaranteed under the 1973 Roe v Wade ruling - would be removed.

The wide-ranging impacts of the Mississippi case means the next few weeks and months will be the most crucial in the battle for America’s reproductive future for a generation.

ITV News spoke to some of the young activists campaigning against the near total-ban on abortions in Texas.

Vienna, 12, from Austin, Texas

12-year-old Vienna says the abortion law is a 'youth issue' that affects girls as young as her. Credit: Family of Vienna

Ask most children what they enjoy doing in their free time and it’s likely they’ll say watching Netflix, meeting up with friends, or avoiding homework.

But 12-year-old Vienna, from Texas, spends her free time going to women’s rights rallies, meeting senators, and fighting what she calls her home state’s “scary” new abortion laws.

"It’s frightening that [the new laws] make things so much more dangerous for women”, Vienna said from her home in Austin.

12-year-old Vienna (left) at a pro-choice rally with Rep. Donna Howard (right) a Texan Democrat politician. Credit: Family of Vienna

She fears that the new abortion laws will force women into getting unsafe abortions, when safe and legal options are no longer available.

“Texas isn’t getting rid of abortion – it’s just getting rid of safe abortion”, she said.

Vienna first got involved in pro-choice (those who believe women should have the choice of whether to get an abortion or not) activism when the new abortion laws were announced.

“I felt terrified, angry, and embarrassed to be from Texas”, she told ITV News – speaking outside of school time.

“My mum told me to channel the anger into something positive…and productive”, she added. After contacting women’s rights charities across her home state, the National Organization for Women Foundation invited her to speak at one of their rallies.

She has now spoken at five rallies, and met with senators from Texas, California, and beyond.

Some will question how such a young girl can have so much awareness on a complex issue like abortion. But Vienna is adamant that it is her own determination that motivates her activism, and not that of her parents.

The aspiring politician - who lists Greta Thunberg and former Texas representative Wendy Davis as her idols - says she comes from a politically engaged family.

Her mother, a housewife, will help give her ideas and proofread her speeches. But it is Vienna herself who is the driving force behind her campaigning against the Texas abortion ban.

“I do my own research and my mum will tell me when news about abortion and the laws comes in”, she said.

“But there are some things I’m more interested in than others…I pick what I want to speak about”.

Vienna (centre) with politicians Rep Lloyd Doggett (left) and Rep Vikki Goodwin (right). The 12-year-old is an aspiring politician. Credit: Family of Vienna

Asked whether she felt safe as a child activist speaking out on such a divisive issue, in an age of online abuse, Vienna said the support and positive feedback she gets far outweighs any negative comments.

“As long as I inspire one person, that is enough for me.

“I feel safer having an army of women behind me at rallies”, she said.

“It’s awesome, and gives me so much hope”.

Paxton Smith, 18, from Dallas, Texas

18-year-old Paxton Smith spoke at the Power of Women awards in Los Angeles, after her high school graduation speech went viral. Credit: AP

18-year-old Paxton Smith had the honour of giving the valedictorian speech at her high school graduation in Dallas, Texas, this year. In the US, the speech is traditionally given by the student with the best grades.

But before taking to the stage, the teenager decided she wouldn’t stick to the script: she tore up her original speech – that had been read and approved by teachers – and decided to speak out about something far more important.

“I thought: I should be talking about [the abortion ban], everyone should be talking about it”, she told ITV News from Texas.

“I was dreading that speech…I was so nervous”, said the teenager, who dreams of being a musician.

“But I am more fearful of what’s happening right now in Texas”.

The 18-year-old – who is yet to vote for the first time – stood in front of hundreds of classmates and teachers and said: “It feels wrong to talk about anything but what is currently affecting me and millions of other women in the state”.

Speaking of the Texas abortion ban – which doesn’t have any exemptions for women who have been raped – Paxton said: “I’m terrified that if I am raped then my hopes and aspirations, and hopes for the future, will no longer matter.

“I hope you can feel how gut-wrenching…and dehumanising that is”, she said.

Paxton – who is now a university student – has no political ambitions. Fighting the Texas abortion ban, she says, is fighting “a war” on the bodies of all women and girls.

“Nobody should be making life-changing decisions like [when you can get an abortion] for anyone else”.

“Politicians want to control women’s bodies…but the only person who should be making those decisions are women themselves”, she added.

What next for the young activists?

Neither Paxton nor Vienna plan on stopping here. Whatever the legal or political outcomes of the next few months, they plan to keep up their activism and fight for what they say is a future where women can be less fearful.

Paxton is campaigning for better sex education in her state, which – along with Mississippi – has one of the highest teen pregnancy rates of all US states. The current system, she says, focuses on “abstinence and shame”.

And 12-year-old Vienna wants people around the world to understand what’s happening in Texas.

“It’s important for people outside the US to help fight this fight because we can’t do this alone”, she told ITV News.

“If we can show the rest of the world we can fight this law, then hopefully other states will follow.”

Who else is speaking out about the Texas abortion ban?

Supermodel Bella Hadid (pictured) has condemned the Texas abortion ban, which she says could have affect reproductive laws across the US. Credit: AP

Events of the past few months have sparked a wave of activism in opposition. Hollywood actor Uma Thurman - who had an abortion as a teenager - spoke out against the new laws in Texas.

And the creator of US crime drama The Wire pulled out of filming his new series in the southern state, in support of his female cast and crew members.

Supermodel Bella Hadid strongly condemned the new laws in Texas. In a post on Instagram, the 25-year-old said Texas governor Greg Abbott's law would be "a blueprint for bans across the US", unless more people take action.