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High school valedictorian goes off script to condemn Texas abortion law in speech

Valedictorian Paxton Smith made a call to nix her original speech to instead speak out against a recently signed "heartbeat" abortion law in Texas.
/ Source: TODAY

A valedictorian at a Dallas high school had planned to discuss media and television in her address at graduation before she made the dramatic decision to scrap her pre-approved remarks to condemn a recently passed "heartbeat" abortion bill in Texas.

Paxton Smith, 18, took the stage at the graduation for Lake Highlands High School on Sunday and spoke out against the law signed by Gov. Greg Abbott last month that bans abortions when a fetal heartbeat is detected, as early as six weeks into a pregnancy, when some women may not even know they are pregnant.

"I felt like, ultimately, there was no better group of people that I could talk to because I knew that in that audience there were people who were going to disagree with what I had to say," Smith told NBC News correspondent Erin McLaughlin on TODAY Thursday.

The speech went viral after Smith used her three-minute platform to take a stand against a law she believes is not right.

"In 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," she said in her speech.

"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. We cannot stay silent."

Lake Highlands High School valedictorian Paxton Smith scrapped a speech approved by her school administrators and condemned a recently passed Texas abortion law instead. Juan Figueroa / The Dallas Morning News via AP

The bill also allows anyone to sue an abortion provider or anyone else who helped someone get an abortion after the detection of a heartbeat for as much as $10,000.

"I have dreams and hopes and ambition," Smith said in her speech. "Every girl graduating today does. We have spent our entire lives working toward our future, and without our input and without our 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 am 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 that is, I hope you can feel how dehumanizing it is, to have the autonomy over your own body taken away from you."

Smith, who will continue her education at the University of Texas at Austin, had only told her parents about her decision to change her speech, which has now been viewed millions of times online. She told NBC's Dallas affiliate "it was worth it, 100%."

"This took guts," Hillary Clinton tweeted. "Thanks for not staying silent, Paxton."

The Richardson Independent School District said it will now review its protocols for student speeches before next year's graduation, according to NBC DFW.

"The content of each student speaker's message is the private, voluntary expression of the individual student and does not reflect the endorsement, sponsorship, position or expression of the District or its employees," the district said in a statement to NBC DFW.

Smith urged future valedictorians to realize the opportunity they have with their graduation speeches.

"Take advantage of the platform," she told McLaughlin. "Say what you want to say, and say what you feel."