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Texas valedictorian goes off-script to advocate for reproductive rights

Paxton Smith Lake Highlands High School
Posted at 11:47 AM, Jun 03, 2021
and last updated 2021-06-04 13:34:22-04

A Texas valedictorian has garnered national attention after she used her speech at graduation to share her opposition to a new state law that severely limits abortions in the state.

Paxton Smith has told local media outlets that she planned to speak about TV content and the media during her speech. But just over a week before she was set to speak, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed Senate Bill 8 into law.

The new law, which goes into effect later this year, makes abortions illegal after a fetal heartbeat is detected, something that occurs just six weeks into pregnancy. Most mothers aren't even aware they're pregnant by that time.

The bill also does not make exceptions for pregnancies caused by rape or incest.

Smith had already submitted a copy of her speech to school administrators for approval. But when she stepped to the microphone, she went off-script.

"In light of recent events, it feels wrong to talk about anything but what is currently affecting me and millions of other women in this state," Smith said in her speech.

Smith spent the next several minutes speaking out about the bill, saying she wouldn't "give up her platform to promote complacency and peace when there is a war on my body and a war on my rights."

"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," Smith said. "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."

Smith was able to finish her speech uninterrupted.

The Richardson Independent School District told the Lake Highlands Advocate that the speech would result in the district reviewing its procedures.

"What the student did was unexpected and not supported by LHHS or RISD," RISD school board president Karen Clardy told the Advocate. "We are going to review student speech protocols in advance of next year's graduations to prevent something like this from happening again."

Texas is among a handful of states with Republican-controlled statehouses that have passed bills banning abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detected. Many of the bills are currently tied up in court appeals.