Dear Paxton Smith: Abortion isn’t as vital to your dreams as your grad speech suggests

·3 min read

Paxton Smith, the 2021 valedictorian at Richardson’s Lake Highlands High School, spoke at her commencement about her opposition to Texas’ recent abortion “heartbeat bill.” This open letter is a response.

Dear Paxton,

I watched your speech.

It was all over my Twitter feed this week, ironic since your original commencement address, the one you threw out in favor of your commentary about abortion, was meant to discuss how media has influenced your life.

I would have liked to hear it, because I suspect that the media, social and otherwise, has dramatically affected your views about motherhood, womanhood and certainly about what kinds of hopes, dreams and ambitions are good and desirable these days.

I could say a lot about the folly of a young, white, educated female standing on a stage and trying to convince others that what terrifies her most — in a world full of genuine tragedy and injustice — is that her contraceptives will fail.

But my intent is not to judge you, just to offer you some truth that probably isn’t circulating in your social circles or on your social media.

We live, as you say, in a state that has recognized that a beating heart signifies life and therefore requires legal protection, even as early as six weeks’ gestation.

That isn’t repressive, as you suggest. It’s remarkable.

If the law stands, beginning in September, an abortion will be harder to come by in Texas.

You see that as an assault on your bodily autonomy because you have been fed a lie that the key to your life’s success relies on your ability to terminate a growing life inside you.

You are scared by the notion that anything or anyone beyond yourself and your body should hold you back. At 18, it’s impossible to imagine loving anything or anyone more than you love yourself and your dreams.

I understand. I was 18 once.

But thinking about your life this way — thinking about your (potential) child’s life this way — is all wrong.

Your hopes, dreams and ambitions do not become irrelevant when you become a mother, whether the pregnancy is intended or unplanned.

Children are not a barrier to your success, and our culture fails you for not repeating this truth loudly and often.

While it’s certainly favorable to begin a family at a time and circumstance of your choosing, it’s also true that no time is ever perfect. Having a child at any age, even with ample resources, will require sacrifices. They will be worth it.

Your worry about failing contraception reminds me of the lamentable reality that women today are not taught to appreciate their bodies. Too few of us are schooled in the knowledge of what our bodies tell us — like the biological markers that let us know when pregnancy is possible.

We are too easily influenced by those who insist that “reproductive freedom” can only be achieved by pills, medical devices and procedures that undermine what our bodies are naturally designed to do.

Knowing and understanding your own body and what it is capable of will give you more autonomy than the birth control pill ever could.

And abortion is not some great equalizer.

If your fear is that diminished access will stymie your life, I can assure you that ending the hopes and dreams of another human being will not better help you to fulfill your own.

If your concern about “reproductive freedom” is genuinely for other women — those with fewer resources and more responsibilities — you should join those already working to create a world in which abortion is never “necessary” because every woman and unborn child has access to support and assistance.

Someday, I suspect, you will be a mother.

I hope that then, you will appreciate the wonder of delivering another person into this world.

I hope that you will enjoy the profound privilege of watching your child experience everything for the first time.

And I hope that you will come to fully appreciate that motherhood isn’t the end of your dreams and ambitions, but their true fulfillment.

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