A Texas high schooler tasked with delivering the valedictorian address at her graduation ceremony ditched her school-approved speech and used her platform to take down her state’s new abortion ban last weekend.
“It feels wrong to talk about anything but what is currently affecting me and millions of other women in this state,” Paxton Smith, the 2021 valedictorian at Lake Highlands High School, said as she pulled a copy of her new speech from her graduation robe.
The issue affecting millions of Texas women is an extreme abortion ban Gov. Greg Abbott (R) signed last month. It effectively bans abortion at six weeks into pregnancy, which is before many women even know they’re pregnant, and is slated to go into effect in September.
“I refuse to give up this platform to promote complacency and peace, when there is a war on my body and a war on my rights,” said Smith, who shared some of her decision-making process with Dallas’s D Magazine on Tuesday. After getting the OK from her parents to proceed with a vastly different speech than the one that was approved by her school administrators, she practiced her new address until she’d nearly memorized it.
The audience erupted in applause as Smith detailed what exactly is at stake.
“I have dreams, hopes, and ambitions. Every girl here does,” she said. “We have spent our whole lives working towards our futures, and without our consent or input, our control over our futures has been stripped away from us. I am terrified that if my contraceptives fail me, that if I’m raped, then my hopes and efforts and dreams for myself will no longer be relevant. I hope you can feel how gut-wrenching it is, how dehumanizing it is, to have the autonomy over your own body taken from you.”
Footage of Smith’s speech began reaching a wider audience in the days following her address as media outlets, Hillary Clinton and other public figures applauded her.
“This took guts,” Clinton tweeted.
Texas is one of several states to pass a six-week abortion ban in recent legislative sessions. They’re typically billed as “fetal heartbeat” laws that would ban abortion as soon as doctors can detect a heartbeat in the fetus, but doctors say that language is medically inaccurate and misleading.
The Texas law is unique in that it also allows anyone to enforce the ban through lawsuits, which pro-choice activists say adds another layer of intimidation to anyone seeking abortion care.
The U.S. Supreme Court recently announced it will take up the issue of bans on abortion before the fetus is viable outside the womb, likely later this year. The reproductive protections it established Roe v. Wade in 1973 could be completely thrown out by its decision.
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