The high school valedictorian who took aim at Texas legislators in her speech is still fighting for women’s rights as a UT student
Paxton Smith’s 2021 valedictory speech at Lake Highlands High School in Dallas wasn’t the same speech she had previously shared with school administrators. She dropped the approved speech and made a case for women’s reproductive rights after lawmakers passed the Texas "Heartbeat Bill.”
Her advocacy made news on NPR, YouTubeTV and in The Guardian. Just over a year later, the “war on (women’s) rights” she forewarned has come to a head as the U.S. Supreme Court voted Friday morning to overturn Roe v. Wade, ending constitutional protection for abortion access.
“It is up to the people to show up and show the courts and the politicians that we won’t sit back and let this happen,” Smith told Austonia Friday morning. “We will show up, we will fight back. Before, we were scared of them, now they should be scared of us.”
Now a University of Texas sophomore and abortion rights activist, 19-year-old Smith said she wanted to give the same speech in the “the most public way possible” to reach “as many people as possible who don't agree that I deserve this right.”
However, she says the response was “actually overwhelmingly positive” and supportive of her cause. According to a recent UT poll, 78% of Texas voters support abortion access in most cases.
The speech opened up further opportunities for activism: she advocated for reproductive rights at the International Forum on Human Rights in Geneva, interviewed with Variety magazine and spoke to tens of thousands at Austin’s Bans Off Our Bodies protest at the Texas Capitol in May.
Smith also serves on the board of directors for the Women’s Reproductive Rights Assistance Project, a national nonprofit organization that helps fund abortions or medication abortion—like Plan C pills—in all 50 states. Most recently, Smith has been attending protests in Washington, D.C. leading up to the ruling.
“This is land of the free. This is where you get to choose how you live your life,” Smith said. “Overturning Roe v. Wade violates everything that we have come to believe about what it means to live in this country. I think a lot of people aren't willing to accept that this is a human right that is most likely just going to be gone for over half of the country within the next couple of weeks.”
Bracing for the next steps, Smith gave some tips for supporters:
- Find a protest to attend.
- “I would say invite somebody to go to those protests with you, invite a couple of friends, invite people into the movement,” Smith said.
- Talk about the issue on social media—use the platform you have.
- “Have these kinds of conversations where people can just talk about their fears and then find ways to go and advocate for yourself,” Smith said.
- Volunteer at a nonprofit near you.
“I feel like a lot of the reason things have gotten as bad as they have within the abortion rights world is that people are not making a scene, not protesting, not putting the effort into ensuring that the government doesn't take away this right,” Smith said. “I want to emphasize that if you're not doing anything, don't expect the best scenario, expect the worst because that's the direction that we're going in.”
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