A Dallas high school senior has earned national attention for the valedictory address she made at her graduation dedicated to abortion rights.
Paxton Smith was valedictorian for Lake Highlands High School, whose commencement took place on May 30. She initially wrote a speech about the media and submitted it to school administrators for approval.
But that was prior to the May 19 passage of the "heartbeat bill," which will prohibit abortions in Texas as early as six weeks and allow private citizens to sue abortion providers and others. It's supposed to go into effect in September, at which time it will be one of the most extreme laws nationwide, although abortion rights groups have promised to challenge it.
At the graduation, Paxton pulled a new address out from beneath her robe, in which she switched her topic to the impact the new restrictions would have on her future and for other women. A video of her address is posted on YouTube.
"I was going to talk about TV and media and content because it's something that's very important to me," she begins. "However under light of recent events, it feels wrong to talk about anything but what is currently affecting me and millions of women in this state."
D magazine did a blog post on her speech "switcheroo," which has now been shared by thousands on Twitter — including former Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, who said, "This took guts. Thank you for not staying silent, Paxton." Smith's speech has since been covered by national news sites such as Vice and Daily Beast.
She told the Lake Highlands Advocate that speakers at the graduation were warned that the microphone would be cut off if they didn't stick to their script, but she felt it was worth the risk. She made it through to the end, and was met by cheers in the audience, although school officials said they'll review protocols to prevent something like this from happening again.
Here's her speech:
"Recently the heartbeat bill was passed in Texas. Starting in September, there will be a ban on abortions after six weeks of pregnancy, regardless of whether the pregnancy was a result of rape or incest. Six weeks. That's all women get.
And so before they realize - most of them don't realize they're pregnant by six weeks - so before they have a chance to determine if they are emotionally, physically, and financially stable enough to carry out a full-term pregnancy, before they have the chance to decide if they can take on the responsibility of bringing another human being into the world, that decision is made by a stranger. A decision that will affect the rest of their lives is made by a stranger.
I have dreams and hopes and ambitions. Every girl graduating today does. And we have spent our entire lives working toward our future, and without our input and without our consent, our control over that future has been stripped away from us. (cheering) 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 to have the autonomy over your own body taken away from you.
And I'm talking about this today on a day as important as this, on a day honoring 12 years of hard academic work, on a day when we are all gathered together - on a day when you are most inclined to listen to a voice like mine, a woman's voice, to tell you that this is a problem and it's a problem that cannot wait. And I cannot give up this platform to promote complacency and peace when there is a war on my body and war on my rights. A war on the rights of your mothers. Awar on the rights of your sisters. A war on the rights of your daughters. We cannot stay silent.
How about a round of applause.