Five women Senators from South Carolina – Katrina Shealy, Margie Bright Matthews, Mia McLeod, Sandy Senn, and Penry Gustafson – who formed a bipartisan coalition to filibuster a near-total abortion ban in their state received the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award®.
Ambassador Caroline Kennedy and her children Jack Schlossberg and Tatiana Schlossberg, members of the Profile in Courage Award Committee, presented the awards on October 29, 2023 at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library in Boston, MA.
“This year’s Profile in Courage Awards® honor leaders who took stands of conscience and risked their careers by putting the public interest ahead of their own political standing,” said Ambassador Caroline Kennedy. “The women of the South Carolina Senate set an example for those seeking justice and individual freedom at all levels of government. President Yoon and PM Kishida are doing the hard work of reconciliation in pursuit of a more peaceful world. All of the honorees demonstrate a commitment to democracy at a time when courage is required.”
“The women of the South Carolina Senate exemplify courage and cooperation in politics today,” said Jack Schlossberg. “Facing intense opposition and personal attacks, Senators Shealy, Matthews, McLeod, Senn, and Gustafson worked together and across the aisle to oppose a total ban on abortion. Their impact extends beyond the state, inspiring Americans everywhere to keep fighting to protect individual rights.”
In an atmosphere of overwhelming polarization, the only women in the South Carolina Senate – three Republican, one Independent, and one Democrat – formed an unlikely coalition to protect abortion rights in their state. In April 2023, Senators Katrina Shealy (R), Margie Bright Matthews (D), Mia McLeod (I), Sandy Senn (R), and Penry Gustafson (R) held a two-day filibuster to block a near-total abortion ban in South Carolina. During the filibuster, each of the five lawmakers took turns describing the complexities of pregnancy and the reproductive system, the dangers of lack of access to contraception, and inadequate privacy laws. Senators Bright Matthews and McLeod even publicly shared their deeply personal experiences with the subject on the Senate floor. Their filibuster halted passage of the ban.
In the immediate aftermath of their filibuster, the “Sister Senators” were heckled and harassed by anti-abortion activists. The three Republicans were also met with strong opposition from their own party – including censures and promises of primary challenges in 2024. Weeks later, when the governor called the South Carolina legislature into a special session to further curtail abortion rights, the “Sister Senators” remained in alliance and stood strong in opposition to a measure banning most abortions at the 6th week of pregnancy. Despite their efforts, that legislation was eventually passed into law.
The John F. Kennedy Library Foundation created the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award® in 1989 to honor President Kennedy’s commitment and contribution to public service. The award is presented annually to public servants who have made courageous decisions of conscience without regard for the personal or professional consequences. The award is named for President Kennedy’s 1957 Pulitzer Prize- winning book, Profiles in Courage, which recounts the stories of eight U.S. senators who risked their careers, incurring the wrath of constituents or powerful interest groups, by taking principled stands for unpopular positions. For more information visit jfklibrary.com.