Paxton Smith, a valedictorian at a Texas high school, has gone off-script during her graduation speech, instead using the time to eloquently criticise the state’s near-total abortion ban.
The Lake Highlands High School student was originally going to talk about how her consumption of media has shaped the way she sees the world – a speech that was signed off by her school. But, in a now-viral video, Smith tells the watching crowd that “in light of recent events, it feels wrong to talk about anything but what is currently affecting me and millions of other women in the state”.
She continues: “Starting in September, there will be a ban on abortion after six weeks of pregnancy, regardless of whether the pregnancy was the result of rape or incest. Six weeks. That’s all women get.”
Smith is referencing Texas’ ‘heartbeat bill’ which was signed into law by the state’s governor, Greg Abbott, in May. As well as making no exceptions in cases of rape or incest, the law prohibits women from procuring abortions after six weeks when – as Smith says – “most of them don’t realise they’re pregnant”.
“I have dreams, hopes, and ambitions,” adds Smith. “Every girl here does. 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 dehumanising it is, to have the autonomy over your own body taken from you.”
Smith concludes: “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. A war on the rights of your sisters, a war on the rights of your mothers, a war on the rights of your daughters. We cannot stay silent.”
Many have taken to social media to praise Smith’s moving speech. Hilary Clintonwrote on Twitter: “This took guts. Thank you for not staying silent, Paxton.”
Veronica Escobar, the Democratic representative for Texas’ 16th congressional district, said: “Wow! Paxton Smith, you are a courageous, brilliant woman. Thank you for using your voice to shed light on the war on women’s autonomy happening in Texas. The world needs to hear this three-minute speech.”
Speaking to Dallas-based D Magazine two days after making her speech, Smith says: “It feels great. It also feels a little weird. Whenever I have opinions that can be considered political or controversial, I keep them to myself because I don’t like to gain attention for that kind of stuff. But I’m glad that I could do something, and I’m glad that it’s getting attention. It just feels weird for me personally, that I’m linked to the attention that the speech got.”