You may have heard by now about Paxton Smith, the high-school valedictorian in Texas who set aside her expected speech and instead delivered a condemnation of the recent heartbeat law in the state, a law that restricts abortions early in pregnancy (because the unborn, developing child has a heartbeat very early).
“I have dreams and hopes and ambitions,” she said. “Every girl graduating today does. . . . And without our input and without our consent, our control over that future has been stripped away from us.”
There is a war on her body. She’s absolutely right. 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. Meanwhile, 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. Pre-COVID, commuter trains in the New York metropolitan area often told that tale, with ads for fertility treatments. These treatments tend to be costly and heartbreaking, and perversely part of the culture of death, given that they create “excess” or unwanted embryos that are eventually destroyed. “Selective reduction” is the euphemism.
“I am terrified, that if my contraceptives fail . . . if I am raped, then my hopes and aspirations and dreams and efforts for my future will no longer matter,” Smith said. “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.”
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. How many ways have we as a society failed her? Sex is presented as something so casual, as if it’s akin to watching something on Netflix or TikTok. Starbucks in the morning, sex at night. Contraception next to the water bottle, as if they were the essentials for daily life. And of course, how much of TikTok involves explicit degradations of the human person? It doesn’t have to be this way.
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. And popular music churns out the soundtrack for exactly that. As the #MeToo movement became a phenomenon, a friend of mine said he was grateful that his wife and daughters had not been abused by any man. I told him to ask them. Many (most?) of us have experienced such mistreatment in one way or another.
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.
One wife and mother responded to a video of part of Smith’s speech on Twitter. After noting how sad it all is, she wrote:
What the hell are we selling our kids? Children — they don’t make women less than. They don’t stand in your way. They aren’t a barrier to your dreams. Abortion isn’t some great equalizer. The act of killing an unborn human does not make the world better for women.
We’re not mad at the young woman, we’re mad at the adults and schools and culture that have failed her. She thinks her freedom and success and flourishing are contingent on the availability of birth control. That’s a lie. 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. I know it’s so quaint as to be insane to modern sensibilities, but saving sex for actual self-sacrificial love in marriage could be so crazy that it’s worth trying. We no longer tell girls that they are worth waiting for. Is this ever presented as an option? Take a look at even some religion books in Catholic school — they are not presenting a compelling case for what love truly is. And it shouldn’t just be in a religious context. It’s healthy, green, and empowering to not give it all away so easily.
We are rational beings with the capacity for discipline, which can be a source of tremendous joy. Talk to some of the young Catholic couples who got married during COVID, even though they couldn’t have the full-on parties that we’re accustomed to. It was worth the wait, and marriage is that important.
Miss Smith thinks her happiness in life depends on contraception and abortion. 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. You see it when you spend any time around abortion clinics. The workers and patients there think that abortion is the responsible thing. Is that what they would want for their own children? Why aren’t we setting up young people for actual joy instead of managing miseries?
This column is based on one available through Andrews McMeel Universal’s Newspaper Enterprise Association.