Valedictorian's Speech Against Texas Abortion Law Viewed Over 300k Times

Valedictorian of Lake Highlands High School, Paxton Smith, switched out her pre-approved graduation speech on the media for one taking on the recently passed six-week abortion bill in Texas.

Initially, Smith was set to discuss the media and how her consumption of it has shaped her. "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 said in the speech.

The speech had been previously approved by the Dallas school's principal Kerri Jones, who didn't have knowledge of the changed words.

Eleven days before Paxton's May 30 graduation, Texas Governor Greg Abbott signed into law the Texas Senate Bill 8, or otherwise known as the heartbeat bill. The bill essentially prohibits women from having abortions if there is a fetal heartbeat, which can occur as early as six weeks into the pregnancy.

Opponents of the bill argue that many women don't become aware of their pregnancy until after six weeks, as it's just two weeks after a missed menstrual cycle. The stipulation makes no exceptions for cases where the pregnancy is a product of rape or incest. Medical emergencies are an exception.

The bill will not be enforced by the state government, but instead citizens will be allowed to sue abortion providers, even if the citizen is in no way connected to the abortion.

"Recently the heartbeat bill was passed in Texas. Starting in September, there will be a ban on abortions that take place after six weeks of pregnancy, regardless of whether the pregnancy was a result of rape or incest. Six weeks. Most women don't even realize they're pregnant by then. And so, before they have the time 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 into the world, the decision has been made for them by a stranger. A decision that will affect the rest of their lives," said Smith in her speech.

"I have dreams, hopes and ambitions. Every girl here does. We have spent out 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," she continued.

"And I'm talking about this today, on a day as important as this, on a day honoring the students' effort in 12 years of schooling, on a day where we're all brought together, on a day where you will be the most inclined to hear a voice like mine, a woman's voice, to tell you that this is a problem. A problem that can't wait. 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. We cannot stay silent," she finished.

Smith's speech was posted on YouTube where it has gained over 100,000 views, while a classmate also shared the video to her TikTok account, amassing over 200,000 views.

While speaking to Lake Highlands Advocate, Smith said she didn't predict it would happen: "When I gave the speech, I didn't realize people who weren't affiliated with LHHS [Lake Highlands High School] would see it. I've been getting hundreds of messages applauding what I said. It's been shared on almost every platform I can think of. That's exciting."

Among those more-than-300,000 viewers was also Hillary Clinton, who shared the story to her Twitter account, writing: "This took guts. Thank you for not staying silent, Paxton."

However, Smith's school wasn't as keen on the speech, and told Advocate that they will be reviewing protocols to prevent the same from happening again.

Richardson Independent School District (RISD) school board president Karen Clardy told Advocate: "All students had to submit their speeches in advance for approval and the principal met with them to make any necessary edits and changes. The speech was added to the script for the ceremony. Everything that was supposed to be said during graduation was included in a notebook on the podium. The speech that was delivered was not the one that was submitted, and it was not in the podium book. This student chose to instead use an alternate speech that had not been submitted or approved in advance."

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

In a statement to Newsweek, the RISD confirmed it will "review student speech protocols in advance of next year's graduation ceremonies. The following statement appears as part of every RISD graduation program:

'The students who shall be speaking at the graduation ceremony were selected based on neutral criteria to deliver messages of the students' own choices. 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.'"

Newsweek has contacted Smith for comment.

Update 6/03/21, 9:43 a.m. ET: This article was updated to include a statement from the RISD.

Student giving a graduation speech
A student giving a graduation speech. A Texas student's speech against anti-abortion legislation has gone viral. Getty Images