At the National Young Feminist Leadership Conference, I met many wonderful people – including Katie Breslin of Catholics for Choice. I mentioned to Katie that I had some interest in lobbying and she put me in contact with some activists in my home state of South Carolina regarding an upcoming anti-abortion bill. That was the beginning of my experience – one I didn’t expect would end with me testifying before a South Carolina state Senate committee.
When Katie told me about this particular bill, she explained that it aims to make abortions performed after 20 weeks illegal on the premise that fetuses can feel pain. The claim that fetuses could feel pain seemed pretty dubious to me, so I reviewed some relevant scientific literature and found that, there is no substantial scientific evidence that fetuses can feel pain. In fact, there is a good amount of evidence suggesting they can’t feel pain.
I wanted my legislators to know this, so when I learned that there was a public hearing coming up – where citizens could provide testimony – I prepared a scientific presentation meant to educate the South Carolina Senate Medical Affairs Committee in my capacity as a psychologist and neuroscientist. The hearing occurred in the midst of finals week, so I didn’t have as much time to practice, was running on little sleep, and was pretty nervous. Looking back, I really had nothing to be worried about – I was simply summarizing the accurate scientific evidence available.
I presented my testimony – and figured it must have gone well enough when one senator told me I had cleared up some questions he had regarding the science behind the bill. The next day, at the larger Senate Medical Affairs Committee meeting a few senators, they mentioned my testimony in a positive way. They discussed how there is not substantial evidence that fetuses can feel pain, which is exactly what I hoped they would take from my testimony. In other words: they actually listened to me.
South Carolina is a very conservative state, so this bill might end up passing. But I tried my best to inform the legislators of South Carolina about the problematic science in their bill, and I know that some of them listened to me. As this bill continues to be discussed by legislators, I will remain active in answering any questions I can regarding the scientific testimony I provided. Overall, this was a positive experience for me and I may become more involved with politics in the future. Personally, I feel obligated to promote accurate scientific knowledge to the general public because I have the privilege of doing science for my job. I believe this to be especially true if poor scientific reasoning is used to take away people’s rights.
But here’s the thing: you don’t need to be a neuroscientist to testify in your state Senate, too! Your legislators want to hear from you and want to learn about your stories! I urge everyone reading this to become more involved with politics. I know that you are all busy, but as students, we have a more flexible schedule so we can make these hearings which often occur during weekdays. If you are interested in making a change, get involved with local organizations which follow bills you are passionate about or look up what is going on in your state online. Enough of us fighting for equality will make the world a better place, but we have to first speak up to be heard.
The political system has problems, but it’s still the best system we have. I’m glad I at least tried to have a small role in protecting people’s rights.