JFK Profile in Courage Award to go to 5 women senators from S.C., South Korean, Japanese leaders

BOSTON — 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 Oct. 29 at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library in Boston. Yoon and 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,” Kennedy said in a statement. “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,” Jack Schlossberg said in a statement. “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 a statement, the JFK Library Foundation said the South Carolina senators banded together “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,” the foundation said. “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, according to the foundation.

“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,” the statement said.

After their filibuster, “the Sister Senators were heckled and harassed by anti-abortion activists,” the statement said.

“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,” the statement said. “Despite their efforts, that legislation was eventually passed into law.”

Yoon and Kishida will be honored for fostering cooperation between their countries.

On Aug. 18, Yoon and Kishida joined President Joe Biden at Camp David “to solidify a historic level of trilateral cooperation between the US and two of its most important democratic allies,” according to the foundation.

“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,” the foundation said in a statement.

“Despite strong opposition in South Korea, President Yoon began working toward rapprochement with Japan shortly after his election in March 2022,” the statement said. “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,” the statement said.

The John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award was created 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, according to the foundation.

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 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.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates as more information becomes available.

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