Paxton Smith, who made headlines in June when she gave a valedictorian address at her Texas high school and switched up her speech to call for abortion rights after Texas passed the heartbeat bill, received a standing ovation when taking the stage at Variety’s Power of Women event presented by Lifetime on Thursday.
Smith was at the event on behalf of A Is 4, a non-profit that uses the arts to destigmatize abortion, as well as WRRAPS, the Women’s Reproductive Rights Assistance project.
The current freshman at University of Texas at Austin spoke about excelling in school to create her own path in life, only to be faced with a law that could take those choices away from her, if she were to get pregnant.
“In high school, I spent every single night of my life struggling to get perfect grades, overwhelmed myself with extracurriculars to put on college applications and resumes and remember working until 3 a.m. some mornings just to finance my college education,” said Smith. “And I did all of this with the hopes of opening up as many doors as possible for myself, so that how I spend my time on this planet is how I choose to spend it, but that decision is not necessarily mine anymore. The Texas Heartbeat Act is an act of the Texas Legislature. The act allows any person to sue someone who ‘performs or induces an abortion, or aids and abets one.’”
Smith went on to explain how this bill could change her lives and other people’s lives around her.
“If I become pregnant, a potentially life-changing decision to carry out that pregnancy has been taken out of my hands and put into the hands of a stranger,” she said. “At the belief systems of a stranger, at the will of a stranger, I could be forced to have a child — regardless of the impact it will have on the life that I have been working towards, the life that I will be the one to live through.”
Smith also told the story of a woman she spoke to who had sought out an abortion 50 years ago, and was forced to have the procedure done in Mexico. She later suffered severe bleeding and was told that hospitals would refuse to treat her.
“Her story was not unique,” said Smith. “That was the reality less than 50 years ago, and that is the reality again in my home.”
Smith ended her speech by issuing a rallying cry for those who are able to help people all around the world.
“The time for silence on the issue has come and gone. There is no more time for complacency, there is no more time to wait and see what happens next, because the very thing we are afraid of, is happening right now. And the unbearable truth is that could soon be the reality for far more than just Texans.”
Smith ended her passionate speech with a question to the audience on behalf of Texans and girls all around the world.
“It is time to do something about that. It is time to say something about that. I need you to do something about that. And if you can’t do it for me, and if you can’t do it for yourself, then do it for every girl who comes after us, every young person who comes after us. Because they are counting on you. So what will you do?”