DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM/AP) – A Dallas high school valedictorian scrapped a speech approved by her school administrators and delivered an abortion rights call in its place.
Paxton Smith, the 2021 valedictorian at Lake Highlands High School, submitted to school officials an address on the effect of the media on young minds.
But when she spoke at the graduation ceremony on Sunday, May 30, she talked of the theft of her rights and those of her classmates by the “heartbeat bill” signed into law by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott a week and a half before.
“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,” she told her class.
The new law outlaws, without exception, any abortion after a first heartbeat can be detected.
That could come as early as six weeks after conception when many women could be unaware that they are pregnant.
The law also would allow anyone to sue a Texas abortion provider or anyone who helped someone get an abortion for as much as $10,000.
“I have dreams and hopes and ambition. Every girl graduating today does. We have spent our entire lives working towards our future, and without our input and without our consent, our control over that future has been stripped away from us. 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 hope that you can feel how gut-wrenching that is, I hope that you can feel how dehumanizing it is, to have the autonomy over your own body taken from you,” she said.
Smith told CBS 11 several days later, “I 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.”
Video of her address was posted on social media and shared broadly.
Comedian Sarah Silverman tweeted that the speech was “brave.” Former Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton tweeted: “This took guts. Thank you for not staying silent, Paxton.”
The Richardson Independent School District, of which Lake Highlands is part, said district will review student speech protocols before next year’s graduation ceremonies.
“The content of each student speaker’s message is the private, voluntary expression of the individual student and does not reflect the endorsement, sponsorship, position or expression of the District or its employees,” it said in a statement.
(© Copyright 2021 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)