State Watch

Texas valedictorian goes viral after giving unapproved speech blasting state’s anti-abortion bill

A Texas high school valedictorian has gone viral for ditching her approved graduation speech to instead denounce the state’s anti-abortion bill, which was signed into law last month.

Paxton Smith, the valedictorian at Lake Highlands High School, had planned to deliver a speech about television and the media, which was approved by school administrators. 

When she was called to the podium at her school’s graduation ceremony, however, she said it “feels wrong” to speak about anything else other than the state’s “heartbeat bill.”

“Today I was going to talk about TV and media and content, because it’s something that’s very important to me. However, under light of recent events, it feels wrong to talk about anything but what is currently affecting me and millions of other women in the state,” Paxton said.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) signed legislation in May, dubbed by some as a heartbeat bill, which bans virtually all abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detected, which can occur as early as six weeks after a woman becomes pregnant.

While the law makes an exception for medical emergencies, it does not exempt pregnancies caused by rape or incest.

Additionally, the law, which goes into effect on Sept. 1, allows most private citizens to sue an abortion provider if they suspect the provider has violated the new ban.

Paxton, who plans to attend the University of Texas at Austin, said the dreams, hopes and ambitions of her and her fellow female graduates have been “stripped away” because of the bill.

“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 that future has been stripped away from us,” Paxton said, which elicited cheers from the audience.

“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,” Paxton added.

She said those feelings were “gut-wrenching” and “dehumanizing.”

“I hope that you can feel how gut-wrenching that is. I hope you can feel how dehumanizing it is to have the autonomy over your own body taken away from you,” Paxton said.

She called the bill “a problem that cannot wait,” and said she decided to voice her concerns on a day “where you are most inclined to listen to a voice like mine, a woman’s voice.”

“I cannot give up this platform to promote complacency and peace when there was 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 concluded.

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton praised Paxton on Twitter, writing that it “took guts” to deliver her speech.

“Thank you for not staying silent, Paxton,” she added.

Texas is one of a number of GOP-led states that have signed bills into law that restrict access to abortions, including Oklahoma, Idaho, Montana and Arizona.

Last month, the Supreme Court agreed to take up a dispute over a Mississippi law that bans virtually all abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy, potentially setting up the 6-3 conservative majority court to chip away at the rights afforded under the 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade.

Tags Abortion heartbeat bill Hillary Clinton

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