HomeLearning CenterJFK Profile in Courage Award to Honor South Carolina Sister Senators for Stand on Abortion Rights

JFK Profile in Courage Award to Honor South Carolina Sister Senators for Stand on Abortion Rights

Press release originally published by the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation

The 2023 John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award® will be presented to 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.

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 stemming from historical issues.

Ambassador Caroline Kennedy and her children Jack Schlossberg and Tatiana Schlossberg, members of the Profile in Courage Award Committee, will present the awards on October 29, 2023 at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library in Boston, MA. [Note: President Yoon and Prime Minister Kishida are expected to accept via pre-recorded video message.]

“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.”

South Carolina Sister Senators

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.

President Yoon Suk-yeol and Prime Minister Fumio Kishida

On August 18, 2023, South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida joined President Joseph R. Biden at Camp David to solidify a historic level of trilateral cooperation between the US and two of its most important democratic allies. This moment was possible because the leaders of South Korea and Japan have courageously worked to address sensitive historical issues that have prevented close cooperation.

Despite strong opposition in South Korea, President Yoon began working toward rapprochement with Japan shortly after his election in March 2022. Since then, the two leaders have built a strong personal relationship allowing them to resolve difficult historical issues. In March 2023, President Yoon made a bilateral visit to Tokyo, the first by a South Korean leader in 12 years. Two months later, Prime Minister Kishida became the first Japanese Prime Minister in 12 years to make a bilateral visit to South Korea, and in May, he welcomed President Yoon to the G7 meetings hosted by Japan in Hiroshima.

Both leaders chose a more hopeful future for their countries as opposed to being held captive by the past. The August meeting at Camp David affirmed the progress made between two of America’s closest allies and set the stage for increasing trilateral cooperation with the United States.

About the Profile in Courage Award

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.

The Profile in Courage Award is represented by a sterling-silver lantern symbolizing a beacon of hope, designed by Edwin Schlossberg. Previous recipients include former U.S. Presidents Barack Obama, Gerald Ford, and George H. W. Bush; Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy; U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi; former U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords; former U.S. Senator John McCain; Liberian peace activist and Nobel laureate Leymah Gbowee; U.S. Representative John Lewis; and former California State Senator and U.S. Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis.

The recipients of this prestigious award for political courage are selected by a distinguished bipartisan committee of national, political, and community leaders. Committee members are B. Marc Allen, Chief Strategy Officer and Senior Vice President, Strategy and Corporate Development, The Boeing Company; David Axelrod, Political Strategist and founder of the Institute of Politics at The University of Chicago; Joaquin Castro, U.S. Congressman, (D-TX 20th District); Carlos Curbelo, Former U.S. Congressman (R-FL 26th District); Christopher Dodd, former Chairman and CEO of the Motion Picture Association of America, former U.S. Senator (D-CT); Sherrilyn Ifill, Emeritus President and Director- Counsel NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund, Inc and Vernon E. Jordan Distinguished Professor of Civil Rights, Howard Law School; Caroline Kennedy, Honorary President of the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation; Marne Levine, Former Chief Business Officer, Meta; Claire McCaskill, former U.S. Senator (D-MO), NBC Political Analyst; William H. McRaven, Admiral, USN (retired); Beth Myers, Principal, Buckminster Strategies; Ronald L. Sargent, Chairman, John F. Kennedy Library Foundation; Jack Schlossberg, Grandson of President Kennedy; and Tatiana Schlossberg, Climate Change and Environmental Journalist.

The John F. Kennedy Library Foundation is a 501(c)(3), non-profit organization founded in 1984 to provide financial support, staffing, and creative resources for the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, a presidential library administered by the National Archives and Records Administration. The Kennedy Presidential Library and the Kennedy Library Foundation seek to promote, through educational and community programs, a greater appreciation and understanding of American politics, history, and culture, the process of governing and the importance of public service.

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