South Carolina GOP Women Who Filibustered Abortion Ban (After Previously Voting for It) Are Ousted

Katrina Shealy, Sandy Senn, and Penry Gustafson lost to three Republican men, all of whom identify as staunchly anti-abortion. One of them even unironically accused Shealy of "deranged, unhinged misandry."

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South Carolina GOP Women Who Filibustered Abortion Ban (After Previously Voting for It) Are Ousted
From left, Katrina Shealy, Penry Gustafson, and Sandy Senn. Photos: Facebook/scstatehouse.gov

On Tuesday, voters across South Carolina participated in the second round of the state’s primary elections. And by the end of the night, three Republican state senators, who joined an Independent and two Democratic senators to try (unsuccessfully) to block an abortion ban last year, were defeated by three Republican men.

Katrina Shealy, Sandy Senn, and Penry Gustafson were dubbed “sister senators” with three of their colleagues in 2023 when they coalesced to filibuster a total abortion ban. They received fawning media coverage for ostensibly bucking their party and were even awarded the 2023 John F. Kennedy Library Foundation “Profile in Courage” award.

Except, as Jezebel’s Susan Rinkunas pointed out at the time, it wasn’t so simple: Gustafson and Shealy previously voted for the abortion ban. They only rejected a newer version of the ban that didn’t allow minors a right to petition a judge for an abortion at up to 12 weeks, and Shealy tried and failed to amend the abortion ban from six weeks to 12 weeks. But this doesn’t change the fact that Shealy and Gustafson did vote for the ban at one point. Meanwhile, Senn previously said she supports an abortion ban after the first trimester, which is still an abortion ban.

On Tuesday night, Shealy conceded to her opponent Carlisle Kennedy, who identifies as “proudly pro-life” and has said he “will work to protect the unborn and advocate for policies that support mothers and families.” Senn and Gustafson were defeated on June 11. Because for whatever reason, this is how primaries work in South Carolina, Gustafson lost her primary earlier this month to Allen Blackmon, who won a staggering 82% of the vote, and Senn lost to Matt Leber by just 30 votes. Blackmon’s platform states his belief that “life, born and pre-born, is worthy of protection”; Leber, who on Tuesday accused the now-ousted Shealy of “deranged unhinged misandry,” says he’s “pro-life” and voted for South Carolina’s abortion ban as a representative in the state House.

“These results removed any ambiguity or question about where the voting Republicans stand regarding both life issues and women. And it’s not good,” Gustafson said in a statement following her defeat. “What we have to say about giving birth and everything related to it is secondary to whatever the men of the Republican Party want.” Of course, I repeat: Gustafson and Shealy voted for South Carolina’s abortion ban—just an earlier version that they deemed more “reasonable.”

Some will characterize these outcomes as a rebuke to abortion rights, which have been a highly salient issue at the ballot box since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in 2022. Even in ostensibly deep red states, like, say, Kentucky, reproductive rights have won as ballot measures and Democratic candidates like Kentucky’s Gov. Andy Beshear have been elected on pointing to their abortion rights credentials and highlighting their opponents’ extremism. Altogether, Senn, Gustafson, and Shealy’s defeats tell us little other than that anything can happen in state and local elections—so, why vote for a more “moderate” version of an abortion ban (those don’t exist!) at all, when you could have just fully supported abortion rights from the start, instead?

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