DALLAS (NewsNation Now) — The Dallas high school valedictorian who gave an abortion rights plea instead of her approved graduation speech told NewsNation Thursday she was surprised she was allowed to finish.
“I was really shocked that I got to finish my speech,” Paxton Smith told Marni Hughes. “And I was very excited by the audience reaction of how positive it was.”
Smith submitted an address on the effect of the media on young minds to school officials. But when she spoke at Sunday’s graduation ceremony, she talked of what she called “a war on the rights” of her body and those of other girls and women by the “heartbeat bill” signed into law by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott a week and a half before.
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.
The law would take effect in September, but federal courts have mostly blocked states from enforcing similar measures.
“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.
Supporters of the law, including Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, say the bill is about saving lives.
“Our creator endowed us with the right to life, and yet millions of children lose their right to life every year because of abortion,” Abbott said. “In Texas we work to save those lives.”
She told NewsNation her parents were concerned about the reaction she would get, but she pressed ahead. She said she’s not afraid of having uncomfortable debates.
“This is a conversation we need to be having,” Smith said. “So it can’t be fire and brimstone from one side or the other. It’s important to listen to what the other side has to say. Even if it doesn’t necessarily change your perspective, change your mind or change the way that you look at the situation.”
The Richardson Independent School District, of which Lake Highlands is part, was less enthusiastic. In a statement, it said it would review student speech protocols before next year’s graduation ceremonies.
Smith says she’s planning to continue her activism, but it isn’t sure exactly how.
“I’m right now I’m just playing it by ear and going with each opportunity that is presented to me and making the most of the situation and the momentum that I’ve gotten,” she said.