Texas High School Valedictorian Changes Planned Graduation Speech to Condemn Strict Abortion Law
"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," 18-year-old Paxton Smith said during her surprise speech
An 18-year-old high school senior from Dallas, Texas, went off-script during her valedictorian graduation speech over the weekend to take a stand against the state's new restrictive abortion ban.
According to Today, Paxton Smith was expected to speak at Lake Highlands High School's graduation on Sunday about media and entertainment as class valedictorian. But Smith instead scrapped the pre-approved script for 3 minutes of condemnation for the controversial legislation known as the "heartbeat ban," which was signed into law by Gov. Greg Abbott last month and prohibits women from getting an abortion after six weeks of pregnancy.
"In light of recent events, it feels wrong to talk about anything but what is currently affecting me and millions of other women in this state," Smith said in her passionate speech, as seen in video obtained by Today.
The bill goes into effect Sept. 1, and does not allow exceptions for women who are impregnated as a result of rape or incest. There are considerations "if a physician believes a medical emergency exists." Also under the bill, private citizens can also sue doctors or abortion clinic workers who perform or help to set up the procedure.
"I have dreams and hopes and ambitions," Smith added in her speech. "Every girl graduating today does. And 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 you can feel how dehumanizing it is," she added, "to have the autonomy over your own body taken away from you. 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," she said to conclude her speech.
Smith's remarks went viral on social media and have been viewed over one million times. Hillary Clinton reacted to the speech on Twitter, writing, "This took guts. Thank you for not staying silent, Paxton."
Smith told NBC Dallas that the she initially thought her was speech "was going to be a big faceplant."
"I expected them to cut the mic before I finished the speech," said Smith. However, the response to her remarks from others have been mostly positive, she said.
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According to NBC Dallas, The Richardson Independent School District said that it will now start reviewing student speech protocols before next year's graduation ceremonies following Smith's switch-up.
"It was worth it, 100 percent," Smith told the outlet of her speech.