SC's 5 female senators honored for vote to reject near-total abortion ban
The S.C. Senate's five female senators will be honored Oct. 29 at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library in Boston.
South Carolina's five female senators will be honored next month with the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award for their unified stance against a restrictive abortion ban.
The award — announced Tuesday by the late President Kennedy's daughter, Ambassador Caroline Kennedy, and her son, Jack Schlossberg — is given to domestic and international public servants for making decisions regardless of personal and political consequences.
At a ceremony next month in Boston, the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation and the family will honor state Sens. Margie Bright Matthews, D-Colleton; Penry Gustafson, R-Kershaw; Mia McLeod, I-Richland; Katrina Shealy, R-Lexington; and Sandy Senn, R-Charleston.
The international awards were given to South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida for their work to improve relations between the two countries.
In the case of the five women, Schlossberg told the TODAY show Tuesday that each legislator took a stance to protect individual rights, despite being from different political parties and having different views on restrictions.
"But they came together, and they stuck together, and it wasn't easy," he said, noting the action came with political risk, including primary challenges.
The women knew about the award for about three weeks, Shealy told SC Public Radio.
"We all worked very hard for the right reason, and we didn't do it to get awarded for it," said Shealy, who at one time was the chamber's only female senator. "We did it because it was the right thing to do.
For the second time in less than a year, the S.C. Senate in April rejected a near-total abortion ban with limited exceptions.
The vote followed a 3-2 state Supreme Court decision in January — months after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade — that overturned a previous six-week ban. At the time, the high court only included one female justice, Kaye Hearn, who retired this year due to the state's mandatory retirement age, 72.
All five female senators, despite their differences, rejected the restrictive measure.
The women used the multi-day debate to lambaste their male colleagues. In one case, Senn likened her colleagues to a herd of 1,500 sheep jumping off a cliff to their death.
Sheep, she said, “learn to follow the leader, and when the leader jumps, the rest follow. Human beings should not be hardwired like that.”
A month later, with Republicans unable to compromise on restrictions, the upper chamber settled on a six-week ban. Again, all five female senators opposed the bill.
In August, the new all-male state Supreme Court upheld the "fetal heartbeat" ban.
The entire 170-member state Legislature is up for reelection in 2024.
At least two of the Republican female senators — Gustafson and Senn — will face primary challenges, in part because of their vote against the abortion bans.
"I didn't come here to get reelected. I came here to make the right decisions for people. I'm not going to change my values, what I believe to get reelected," Shealy said. "I hope that people don't vote for someone else because of one vote, but I hope that people try and understand why we voted the way we did, too."