Last week, in Dallas, Texas, Lake Highlands High School valedictorian Paxton Smith became famous overnight for using her graduation speech to decry Governor Greg Abbott’s recent “heartbeat bill” abortion ban. She talked about how her own future was in peril if she became pregnant against her will — even as the result of assault.
Smith’s speech was both heart-wrenching and moving.
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.
And 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.
It should come as no surprise that conservatives have already attacked her for using her speech to defend her own rights, including from Kathryn Jean Lopez at National Review. Her reaction involved twisting Smith’s words and decrying the fact that women ever had the right to control their own bodies.
It’s such a thoughtless reaction that its flaws deserve to be called out one by one.
- She misunderstands contraception
- She promotes misogynistic, outdated gender roles
- She has a condescending tone
- She blames social media and pop culture for all the world’s problems
- She shames young people for having sex
- She blames victims
- She treats sexual freedom as degrading
- She’s a hypocrite
… The scandal of women’s health care is that oral contraceptives essentially get prescribed automatically for a whole host of problems — doctors figure that any teenage girl should be on them anyway. That’s supposedly our only way to prevent pregnancy and abortion…
The medical community isn’t prescribing oral contraception just for the hell of it. Birth control regulates more hormonal and menstrual health factors than just preventing pregnancy — and there are several reasons that it can be beneficial for women’s health. More to the point, if you’re against abortion, then why also fight against safe and effective ways to prevent pregnancy that don’t create unnecessary physical and emotional turmoil? Lopez has long promoted the ideas of purity culture and abstinence-only sex education.
… that’s the start of a cruel journey we set women up for: turn their focus to career and sexual autonomy, only for them to realize too late in life that they actually wanted to have children — and actual, fruitful love… The glory of complementarity is that it is good for civilization. Women expect to be cherished by men. Men protect women. That’s good stuff that makes for a happier life than one can find walking around in fear of becoming pregnant because your birth control failed or you were raped.
Oh, no. The horrors of women having careers and sexual autonomy! Whatever will we do?
Lopez also ignores the idea that married, in-love women still may not want children. (Hi, that includes me!) She also ignores how women who remain housewives could still have unwanted pregnancies. She must be using Lori Alexander’s definition of marital rape — which is to say it’s by definition non-existent.
This dear, sweet girl. What’s dehumanizing is a culture telling her that her natural ability to bring life into the world is anything but amazing…
Out of everything in this article, this line made me cringe the most. Yikes. No one’s telling Smith that having a baby isn’t amazing. It can be wonderful — if that’s what she wants. Dehumanizing would be forcing a woman to give birth after she’s been raped, which is something Lopez and Texas Republicans have no problem with.
… Sex is presented as something so casual, as if it’s akin to watching something on Netflix or TikTok… And of course, how much of TikTok involves explicit degradations of the human person? It doesn’t have to be this way… popular music churns out the soundtrack for [drinking and hook-up culture].
Believe it or not, sex preceded TikTok and rock & roll by at least a few years.
It’s also clear Lopez hasn’t spent much time on TikTok. My “For You” page consists mostly of recipes, crafts, and dozens of atheists talking about how we all suffered similar kinds of childhood religious indoctrination.
Sex can be casual for some. It doesn’t have to be. But to pretend that certain kinds of sex are legitimate while everything else is debauchery-that-will-send-you-to-Hell is the sort of teaching that has been harming young women in churches for decades.
Starbucks in the morning, sex at night. Contraception next to the water bottle, as if they were the essentials for daily life…
Sounds like a fun week, if not a little mundane. But also, you do you. If that life works for you, have at it. Tip your barista well.
… And what on earth are the boys learning that rape is in the forefront of her mind? We all know why, of course. Drinking and hook-up culture make rape more likely than not. Even if Smith is not into that, she clearly knows all too intimately how easy it can be for a young woman to be used or abused…
Leave it to a conservative to blame a woman for calling out rape instead of a man for committing it.
Maybe boys are seeing their pastors and church leaders get away with sexual abuse and learn that the church will probably protect them, too. Maybe girls are taught that our bodies are filthy and sinful, “causing a brother to stumble.” Purity culture often leads to unhealthy ideas about sex that have no foundation of consent or respect.
… There’s freedom in choosing something better for yourself, in knowing that you don’t have to prove your beauty or power to yourself or anyone else by having as much sex as you please.
There’s freedom in choosing what is right for you and knowing that you have the power to say yes or no.
There’s freedom in knowing that you are beautiful and expressing that by having as much or as little sex as you please.
There’s freedom in controlling your own life and making your own decisions, period.
… We are such a long way away from Bill Clinton’s politically savvy description of abortion as “safe, legal, and rare.” And that’s a miserable reality. Abortion is not just an expectation, but a routine.
Yes, abortion should be legal. If you pair its legality with safe and accessible contraceptives as well as comprehensive, age-appropriate sex education, then it will be more rare than if you just push abstinence-only education and make abortion illegal. Lopez suggests Clinton’s phrase is a worthwhile goal while promoting policies that take us far away from that.
Ultimately, Lopez’s article shows exactly why Smith’s speech created such a firestorm. Texas politicians are making life worse for many of its most promising subjects. If Smith wants freedom and control of her own body, she’s going to have to leave the state to find it. That should horrify politicians who want to draw talent to Texas instead of pushing it away.