The valedictorian who swapped her speech is still fighting for women’s rights

Paxton Smith’s 2021 farewell speech at Lake Highlands High School in Dallas was not the same speech she previously shared with school administrators. She dropped the approved speech and advocated for women’s reproductive rights after lawmakers passed Texas’ “Heartbeat Bill.”

His plea made news on NPR, YouTubeTV and in The Guardian. Just over a year later, the “war on (women’s) rights” she warned came to a head when the United States Supreme Court voted Friday morning to overturn Roe v. Wade, ending the constitutional protection of access to abortion.

“It’s up to the people to show up and show the courts and the politicians that we’re not going to sit back and let this happen,” Smith said in Austonia Friday morning. “We will show up, we will fight. Before we were afraid of them, now they should be afraid of us.

Now a sophomore at the University of Texas and an abortion rights activist, Smith, 19, said she wanted to deliver the same speech in the “most public way possible” to achieve ” as many people as possible who disagree that I deserve this right.”

However, she says the response has been “actually overwhelmingly positive” and supports her cause. According to a recent UT poll, 78% of Texas voters support abortion access in most cases.

The speech opened up new opportunities for activism: She advocated for reproductive rights at the International Human Rights Forum in Geneva, interviewed Variety magazine and spoke to tens of thousands of people at Austin’s Bans Off Our Bodies protest at the Texas Capitol in May.

Smith also serves on the board of the Women’s Reproductive Rights Assistance Project, a national nonprofit that helps fund abortions or medical abortions — like Plan C pills — in all 50 states. More recently, Smith attended protests in Washington, DC leading up to the decision.

“This is the land of the free. It’s where you get to choose how you live your life,” Smith said. “Overthrow Roe v. Wade violates everything we have come to believe about what it means to live in this country. I think a lot of people are not ready to accept that this is a human right that will most likely disappear for more than half the country in the next two weeks.

Preparing for the next steps, Smith offered some advice to supporters:

  • Find an event to attend.
    • “I would say invite someone to go to these protests with you, invite some friends, invite people into the movement,” Smith said.
  • Talk about the issue on social media – use whatever platform you have.
    • “Have these kinds of conversations where people can just talk about their fears and then come up with ways to defend themselves,” Smith said.
  • Volunteer at a nonprofit near you.

“I feel like a big part of the reason things have gotten so bad in the world of abortion rights is that people aren’t making a scene, aren’t protesting, aren’t making noise. effort to make sure the government doesn’t take that right away from them,” Smith said. “I want to emphasize that if you do nothing, don’t expect the best case scenario, expect the worst because that’s the direction we’re going.”

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