Five women state senators from South Carolina who formed a bipartisan coalition to filibuster a near-total abortion ban in their state have been chosen to receive the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award this year.
A special International Profile in Courage Award will honor South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida for working to improve relations between their countries despite domestic opposition.
During the filibuster the senators - Republicans Katrina Shealy, Sandy Senn, and Penry Gustafson, Democrat Margie Bright Matthews, and independent Mia McLeod — took turns “describing the complexities of pregnancy and the reproductive system, the dangers of lack of access to contraception, and inadequate privacy laws,” award officials said in written release.
Officials noted that members of the coalition, who became known as the “sister senators," were heckled by anti-abortion activists and the three Republicans were also met with strong opposition from their own party – including censures and promises of primary challenges in 2024.
Despite the filibuster, the South Carolina Legislature was later able to approve the measure that would ban most abortions after around six weeks of pregnancy — before most people know they are pregnant.
“We in the South Carolina Legislature are not God. We do not know what’s going on in somebody else’s life. We do not have the right to make decisions for someone else,” Shealy said at the time, urging other members of her party to adopt a 12-week abortion ban instead.
U.S. Ambassador to Australia Caroline Kennedy said the goal of the Profile in Courage awards is to honor leaders who took stands of conscience and risked their careers by putting the public interest ahead of their own political standing.
“The women of the South Carolina Senate set an example for those seeking justice and individual freedom at all levels of government," she said in a statement. “President Yoon and PM Kishida are doing the hard work of reconciliation in pursuit of a more peaceful world.”
Kennedy and her children Jack Schlossberg and Tatiana Schlossberg, members of the Profile in Courage Award Committee, will present the awards on Oct. 29 at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library in Boston.
President Kennedy’s book, “Profiles in Courage,” recounts the stories of eight U.S. senators who risked their careers by taking principled stands for unpopular positions. The award was created by the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation in 1989.
Previous winners have included Presidents Barack Obama, Gerald Ford and George H.W. Bush.
Last year, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy was among five people named as recipients of the award for his efforts to protect democracy.