Paxton Smith, his class lecturer at a high school in Dallas, Texas, was planning to give a graduation speech on the media. But when she took the stage at Lake Highlands High School on Sunday, she used her three minutes to address what she sees as a bigger issue: Texas’ new abortion law.
The law, which will come into force on September 1, prohibits abortion after six weeks of pregnancy, even if it is the result of rape or incest. Known as the “heartbeat law”, it is one of the most restrictive abortion measures in the country.
Faced with what appeared to be a crowd of thousands, including students, families and administrators, gathered at the school’s football stadium, Smith, 18, spoke out against the law and the impact that this would have on women, calling it a “decision that will affect the rest of their lives” was “taken by a stranger”.
“I have dreams, hopes and ambitions. All the girls who graduate today have them,” she said. “And we have spent our entire lives working for our future, and without our advice and without our consent, control of our future has been taken away from us.”
With some applause, she continued, “I am terrified that if my birth control fails, I am terrified that if I get raped, my hopes and aspirations, my dreams and efforts for my life. future will no longer matter. “
Like the legislation, which had the backing of anti-abortion groups and the condemnation of reproductive rights activists, Smith’s speech drew strong reactions from both sides of the debate.
The Richardson School District, which includes Lake Highlands School, said in a statement it will revise student speech protocols for graduation ceremonies next year.
“The content of each student’s message is the private and voluntary expression of the individual student, and does not reflect the support, censure, position or expression of the district or its staff,” he said. said, according to the Associated Press news agency.
The speech was covered in national and international media, and a video of it was shared widely on social media.
Smith said in an interview that while he was speaking he noticed a woman at the side of the stage “aggressively” signaling that her microphone was muted – which she did not do.
Texas Governor Greg Abbott signed the abortion law on May 19. The measure, in practice, means an almost total ban on abortion, as many women are unaware they are pregnant during the sixth week, when the procedure is vetoed.
The measure will also allow individuals to sue doctors or staff at abortion clinics who perform or arrange the procedure.
Smith said he submitted his original media speech to the school administration for approval. But ten days before the ceremony, she was trying to finish an academic project when she realized how disturbed she was by the new law. “I started writing my speech at that point,” he said.
Smith said he did not submit the new abortion speech for school review. “It’s a controversial subject, and I think schools generally like to stay away from controversial issues.”
Before the ceremony, the young woman spent some time thinking about whether to move forward. “I said: I could speak at a rally, but the people there already agree with you,” he explained. “So I thought, there’s no better time and better place to reach a group of people from different backgrounds who will listen to you.”
Sunday night, after being introduced by her geometry and statistics teacher Brody Lyons, Smith approached the podium, apprehensive.
She told the audience the law was “inhumane” and graduation was “a day when you’re more likely to hear a voice like mine, a woman’s voice, tell you it’s a problem. , and that this problem cannot wait “. .
“I cannot abandon this platform to promote appeasement and peace when there is a war for my body and my rights,” he concluded. “A war for the rights of your mothers, a war for the rights of your sisters, your daughters. We cannot be silent.
Translated by Luiz Roberto M. Gonçalves