A high school valedictorian from Texas flipped the script on school officials by using her graduation speech to speak out against the state’s newly signed law banning abortions as early as six weeks after conception.
Paxton Smith had submitted an entirely different speech on the effect of the media on young minds to school officials for the commencement ceremony at Lake Highlands High School in Dallas on Sunday, but Smith said it was important to use the moment to criticize a controversial abortion law signed by Gov. Greg Abbott last month.
“I refuse to give up this platform … when there is a war on my body and a war on my rights,” Smith said.
Smith called the legislation “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,” Smith said to her graduating class.
Smith was able to finish her speech without interruption. It’s not unusual for school officials to intervene when a student deviates from an approved graduation speech.
The speech has prompted the Richardson Independent School District to reevaluate its set of protocols for student speeches.
“Everything that was supposed to be said during graduation was included in a notebook on the podium,” school board president Karen Clardy told the Lake Highlands Advocate. “The speech that was delivered was not the one that was submitted, and it was not in the podium book. This student chose to instead use an alternate speech that had not been submitted or approved in advance.”
The law criticized by Smith prevents Texas citizens from getting an abortion if a fetal heartbeat is detectable, which can take place “as early as six weeks gestation – or six weeks from a woman’s last menstrual period.” The legislation, which is set to take effect Sept. 1, also would allow private citizens to sue individuals and abortion providers who violate the ban.
Opponents of the bill have argued that the limited time window restricts women’s decisions.
“Before they have a chance to decide 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 for them by a stranger,” Smith said, according to a video of the speech published by Dallas TV station WFAA.
“I have dreams, hopes and ambitions,” Smith said. “Every girl here does. We have spent our whole lives working toward our futures, and without our consent or input, our control over our futures has been stripped away from us.”
Smith’s speech has circulated widely on social media. Comedian Sarah Silverman and former Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton commended her.
Contributing: Madlin Mekelburg, Austin American-Statesman; The Associated Press