Giving a valedictorian speech in front of hundreds, if not thousands, of people is an incredibly daunting task. Public speaking doesn’t come easily for most people, but valedictorian Paxton Smith demonstrated courage personified last weekend when she went off-script during her speech.
The Texas graduate had a speech ready to go and already approved by her school’s administration when she decided, at the last minute, to use her brief public platform to call out the new abortion ban that went into law in her home state recently.
“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 Dallas’s Lake Highlands High School, said. “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.”
Last month, Texas Governor Greg Abbott signed a near-total ban on abortion into law. It prohibits abortions from occurring at six weeks and beyond—when most people aren’t even aware they’re pregnant yet. When you miss your first period, you’re already considered to be four weeks pregnant. Because many people have irregular menstrual cycles (and because pregnancy tests aren’t always 100% reliable), many people are still unaware of pregnancy at six weeks.
The Texas law makes no exception for rape or incest, and advocates say it will, in effect, make it impossible for women across the state to receive abortion care.
‘A war on my body’: Texas valedictorian goes off script over new abortion law
“I have dreams, hopes and ambitions,” Smith continued. “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 dehumanizing it is, to have the autonomy over your own body taken from you.”
The speech quickly went viral, garnering attention from prominent, political public figures like Hillary Clinton.
The Texas law also allows private citizens to enforce the abortion ban by suing the provider and anyone who “aids and abets” an abortion that violates the six-week restriction, which adds another barrier for people seeking abortion care.
The U.S. Supreme Court announced that later this year, it will take up the issue of bans on abortion before the fetus is viable outside the womb.