A Texas high school valedictorian last weekend scrapped her school-approved commencement speech to blast Texas' so-called "heartbeat" abortion bill, signed into law last month by Gov. Greg Abbott.
In a surprise move first reported on by D Magazine, Lake Highlands High School valedictorian Paxton Smith (grade point average: 104.93) swapped out a speech on media consumption reviewed by school administrators, instead calling out the restrictive abortion law as a "dehumanizing" attack on women.
The measure, which goes into effect in September, prohibits abortions as early as six weeks, before many women are even aware they're pregnant. It includes no exceptions for cases of incest or rape.
"I have dreams, hopes, and ambitions. Every girl here does," Smith said during her speech. "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."
In video of the address, Smith is nervous and halting at first. However, she quickly builds to a forceful explanation of what the bill does and the autonomy it strips from women. In its closing, she explains that she couldn't give up the opportunity to raise awareness about the issue while she had an audience.
"I refuse to 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 sisters, a war on the rights of your mothers, a war on the rights of your daughters," she said.
"We cannot stay silent."Smith — who plans to study at the University of Texas at Austin — told D Magazine that school administrators initially told her that they could withhold her diploma (one can almost hear them threatening that her act would also "go down on her permanent record"). So far, that's been a hollow threat.
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