Paxton Smith, the valedictorian of Lake Highlands High School in Dallas, scrapped her planned speech this weekend to give an impromptu address about the necessity of women’s autonomy over their own bodies.
Smith criticized the six-week abortion ban that Republican Gov. Greg Abbott signed into law last month. The law, which does not include exceptions for rape or incest, is subject to litigation and likely will not take effect as written. Still, it’s part of a worrisome trend of states chipping away at abortion rights in attempts to challenge Roe v. Wade.
“Before [women] have the 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. “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 cannot give up this platform to promote complacency and peace when there is a war on my body and a war on my rights,” she said, to cheers and applause, “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.”