Teen goes viral with unauthorised graduation speech calling out Texas anti-abortion law
3 June 2021, 15:50 | Updated: 9 June 2021, 15:26
In her speech, Paxton Smith said: "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."
A Texas high school student has gone viral after secretly swapping out her approved valedictorian speech for one that protests against the state’s new abortion law.
Lake Highlands High School valedictorian Paxton Smith was meant to make a speech about the media and how it has ultimately shaped the way she sees the world. Instead, she decided to go off her authorised script and use her platform to deliver a passionate 3-minute speech about the near-total abortion ban (also known as the 'heartbeat bill') that has recently passed in Texas.
"I was going to get up here and talk to you about TV and media and content because it's something that's very important to me," Smith said at the start of her speech. "However, 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."
She later added: "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."
What is a heartbeat bill?
A heartbeat bill is a piece of abortion restriction legislation in the U.S. that seeks to make abortions illegal as soon as a heartbeat can be detected. A fetal heartbeat can be detected at about six to seven weeks of pregnancy, which is often before someone even knows they are pregnant.
Reproductive rights advocates, Democrats, and doctors have been vocally critical about the bills, pointing out that they could result in a near-total ban on abortion.
Several conservative states have moved to pass these heartbeat bills into law, although they have been blocked by the courts. In 2020, a federal judge struck down Georgia's controversial law, ruling that it violates the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
In May 2021, Texas signed one of the U.S.' strictest abortion restriction laws, prohibiting abortions as early as six weeks. It also includes pregnancies that are a result of rape or incest. The bill means that private citizens will be able to sue abortion providers or anyone who helps someone get an abortion after a fetal heartbeat has been detected. Texas' law will come into effect in September 2021 if it is not stopped in court.
The Texas bill is the one that Paxton Smith addressed in her speech about abortion rights. Watch the full speech in the video below.
Read Paxton Smith's full speech on abortion rights below
"As we leave high school we need to make our voices heard. I was going to get up here and talk to you about TV and media and content because it's something that's very important to me. However, 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.
Recently, the heartbeat bill was passed in Texas. Starting in September, there will be a ban on abortions after six weeks of pregnancy, regardless of whether the pregnancy was a result of rape or incest. Six weeks. That's all women get. Most of them don’t realise that they’re pregnant by six weeks. So, 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, the decision has been made for them by a stranger. A decision that will affect the rest of their lives.
I have dreams and hopes and ambitions. Every girl graduating today does. And we have spent our entire lives working towards our future, and without our input and without our consent, our control over our futures has been stripped away from us.
I am terrified that if my contraceptives fail, I am terrified that if I’m raped, then my hopes, aspirations, dreams and efforts for future 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.
And I’m talking about this today, on a day as important as this, on a day honouring twelve years of hard academic work, on a day where we’re all gathered together, on a day where you are most inclined to listen to a voice like mine, a woman’s voice, to tell you that this is a problem. And it's a problem that cannot wait.
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. 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."
This took guts. Thank you for not staying silent, Paxton. https://t.co/DlwEgmMRGN— Hillary Clinton (@HillaryClinton) June 2, 2021
Speaking to CBS Dallas, Smith said she "was a little bit nervous that the microphone would be cut off. They are supposed to cut off your microphone if you go off script, and I went way off script." It wasn't, and she was able to complete her full speech.
Smith's speech has already been praised by thousands and thousands of people on social media, and has also gone viral on Twitter and TikTok. Hillary Clinton also took to Twitter to thank Smith for "not staying silent".