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 Profile in Courage Award for the South Carolina State Senators was one of two awards presented at the 2023 Profile in Courage Award ceremony. Learn about the other honorees, the Leaders of South Korea and Japan.
On Sunday, October 29, 2023, Ambassador Caroline Kennedy and her children, Jack Schlossberg and Tatiana Schlossberg, members of the Profile in Courage Award Committee, presented the awards in a live-streamed ceremony. Watch the ceremony.