(CBSDFW.COM) - Lake Highlands High School Valedictorian Paxton Smith accepted an invitation from Gloria Allred to celebrate the acclaimed American women's rights attorney's 80th birthday.
"I am not passing the torch to Paxton because of my birthday. I am not finished. I have many fights left. But I am sharing the torch," said Allred.
Smith caught the nation's attention when she tore up her high school graduation speech and instead spoke passionately against recent laws that restrict a woman's right to choose abortion.
"I look up to Gloria," said the 18-year-old during a press conference July 2. She said she's even working on a book with Allred. During that same press conference, Allred spoke about why the right to choose abortion is so important to her (including how she almost died from an illegal abortion) and why she admires what Paxton did.
"I do believe that Roe V Wade is in danger of being overturned or narrowly interpreted so that states have the right to restrict abortion," said Allred. "Women are in danger. It's not an academic issue. It is a real life crisis that we are facing. We can't wait until decisions are made for us by strangers."
Paxton weighed in as well when asked how her peers feel about women's reproductive rights.
"Most agree and the few people who don't shouldn't be able to change that right for everyone," she said.
Texas currently bans abortion after 20 weeks, but the new "heartbeat bill" makes the procedure illegal after the first heartbeat is detected, usually at about six weeks. Most women aren't aware they are pregnant until after that mark. The bill, which takes effect in September, makes no exception for pregnancies resulting from rape or incest and allows individual citizens to sue healthcare workers and anyone else who may have helped a pregnant woman obtain the procedure.
Even though it's Allred's birthday on July 3, she gave Smith a t-shirt with an image of Allred and the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg on it. And perhaps more valuable, she offered sage words of advice to the teen.
"When people call names, it's because they don't have a good argument against what you're advocating for," she said. "Just be kind."
Smith's valedictory address:
As we leave high school we need to make our voices heard. Today, I was going to talk about TV and media and content because it's something that's very important to me. However, under light of recent events, it feels wrong to talk about anything but what is currently affecting me and millions of other women in this state.
Recently the heartbeat bill was passed in Texas. Starting in September, there will be a ban on abortions after 6 weeks of pregnancy, regardless of whether the pregnancy was a result of rape or incest. 6 weeks. That's all women get. Most women don't even realize they're pregnant by then. And so, before they have the time to decide if they are emotionally, physically, and financially stable enough to carry out a full-term pregnancy, before they have the chance to decide if they can take on the responsibility of bringing another human being into the world, that decision is made for them by a stranger. A decision that will affect the rest of their lives has been made by a stranger.
I have dreams and hopes and ambitions. Every girl graduating today does. And we have spent our entire lives working towards our future, and without our input or consent, our control over that future has been stripped away from us. I am terrified that if my contraceptives fail, I am terrified that if I'm raped, then my hopes and aspirations and dreams and efforts for my future will no longer matter. I hope that you can feel how gut-wrenching it is. I hope you can feel how dehumanizing it is to have the autonomy over your own body taken away from you.
And I'm talking about this today, on a day as important as this, on a day honoring 12 years of hard academic work, on a day where we are all gathered together, on a day where you are most inclined to listen to a voice like mine, a woman's voice, to tell you that this is a problem. And it's a problem that cannot wait. 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.
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