Texas high schooler Paxton Smith gave a surprise valedictorian’s address at her high school’s graduation reacting to the state’s attempt to restrict abortion. She said she needed access to abortion to accomplish her goals. Without it, she was “terrified.” Jacqueline Abernathy, once an ambitious high school star herself, explains why she’s so wrong.
“I have dreams, hopes, and ambitions,” you said. “Every girl here does. We have spent our whole lives working towards our futures, and without our consent or input, our control over our futures has been stripped away from us.”
You were talking about Texas’s new law banning abortions after the baby has a heartbeat, in your address as high school valedictorian. “I am terrified,” you continued, “that if my contraceptives fail me, that if I’m raped, then my hopes and efforts and dreams for myself will no longer be relevant. I hope you can feel how gut-wrenching it is, how dehumanizing it is, to have the autonomy over your own body taken from you.”
It’s brought you national fame. But I’m so sorry you don’t understand what women can do.
A High Achiever Too
I was a high achiever too, Paxton. I was not my high school valedictorian, perhaps because I dropped out my sophomore year in favor of early college, thinking high school would only slow me down. By the time I was your age, I was almost halfway to my first of my three degrees. I went on to add an M.S. at 24, bought my first home at 25, and became self-employed at 28. I finished my Ph.D. at 31 and have been teaching university and graduate students ever since.
I say all this to let you know that I can relate to having big dreams. I see my younger self in you quite a bit.
I understand your drive and desire to do impressive things with your life. But I am at a loss for how you seem to think we women need violence to pursue our goals.
What Misogynist Lied to You?
I don’t get how resolute you are that we as women are nothing without abortion — that we require the ability to snuff out of own sons and daughters if we hope to make something of ourselves. You stated you are terrified that an unplanned pregnancy would destroy your entire life and all you’ve worked toward, as if women don’t balance babies and business everyday.
Who convinced you that we as women are so weak that we have to oppress our own offspring if we want to achieve something in life? What misogynist lied to you? And why did you believe it? Look around. Evidence to the contrary is everywhere.
I’m not saying that becoming pregnant at a young age is good, that it is no big deal to try to raise a child before you are ready and without a partner in life. What I’m saying is that abortion is not the solution to those struggles.
Pregnancy was certainly not something I wanted at your age either,. Unlike you, I didn’t think that nine months of pregnancy would ruin my entire life. It would change it in ways I did not desire, but it would not have sabotaged my ambitions. I would have still likely ended up where I am today if I had raped or sexually active. Having been pregnant and delivered a child does not keep women from doing what they want in life.
Reproductive Russian Roulette
It was just that I didn’t want single motherhood for myself and especially not for my children. I wanted a loving and supportive partner and devoted daddy for my children, which is why I chose not to risk pregnancy at all without that. No one would have died if I had become pregnant while single, and I knew I would still carry on toward my goals, but sex was not worth the risk of missing out on how good things are now.
This is so much better. Since you believe your life will be over and your dreams dead and buried if you get pregnant, you need to remember this truth: you can choose the better thing. There is too much at stake to play Russian roulette with reproduction. Why risk it?
I know the answer to that, though. You risk pregnancy because abortion exists. So you aren’t risking losing your life, just your lifestyle the way you desire it. You export the risk to your child, to end her actual life so you can carry on living as you please. And that is why the law scares you when it protects unborn children from death. Actions may finally have consequences for you rather than just your child.
So I guess my next question would be: what credit can you really take for anything you achieve if you had to destroy others to do it? If you can’t climb a career ladder without crushing the smallest and most helpless — and your own baby at that — can you honestly say you earned your ranks?
I hope you do get all you want it life. I want you to go far. I still remember how it felt to be eighteen with the hunger to do impressive things. But there are some lines we just don’t cross. No personal or professional goal can justify killing another human being, Paxton. Ambition so ruthless is the sign of someone desperate to prove themselves and fearful that they don’t have what it takes to be a fully functional woman and a worldly success.
Believe in Yourself
Sadly, I can tell you don’t believe in yourself, since you think the natural outcome of human reproduction will sabotage all you long to be. But I am here to tell you that you do not need to live in fear of pregnancy throwing a wrench into your plans, nor must you buy the sexist lie that you as a woman can’t be anything without abortion violence because you see pregnancy as incompatible with attainment.
You see your own kids as adversaries and treat their hypothetical existence like it is a personal threat. You need to show yourself that you are capable of achieving any aim you choose, even as a woman who can conceive and carry human life. You can avoid parenthood until you are ready. You don’t need to destroy your children along the way.
Believe in yourself, Paxton. You can choose not to risk pregnancy and you can resolve not to rely on abortion to pursue your dreams. ou have the power to choose well.
Besides, is any dream that comes at the life and limb of your child even worth having? I have fulfilled my aspirations while raising several children of my own. I chose to have it all, but if I picked career over my kids, I would have nothing.
Women are Amazing
I hope you will choose wisely as you venture into adulthood. Because women are amazing and whoever made you afraid to be one needs to be reminded of what women can do. This is your chance to be an example and prove yourself — first and foremost for you, but then to all who think you can’t succeed on your own. And for all who can’t imagine that women can succeed without violence.
You can succeed. I did. And I am rooting for you, one high achiever to another.
Jacqueline H. Abernathy, Ph.D., MSSW, is a graduate professor, bioethicist and public policy scholar from Texas. A Catholic convert, she upholds a consistent life ethic opposing violence from conception to natural death. Her research primarily focuses on end-of-life issues such as assisted suicide or disputes over the continuation of life support. Her writing can be found at jacquelineabernathy.com.
Photo credit: Pedro Padro/AFP via Getty Images.
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