Democrat Gary Peters becomes first sitting senator to share his family's abortion experience

"This is a pivotal moment for reproductive freedom."

Madeline Roth
Monday 12 October 2020 19:56 BST
Senator Gary Peters has shared his family’s experience with abortion amid what he says is “a pivotal moment for reproductive freedom” in the US.
Senator Gary Peters has shared his family’s experience with abortion amid what he says is “a pivotal moment for reproductive freedom” in the US.

Gary Peters, a Democratic senator from Michigan, has opened up for the first time about his family's painful experience with abortion.

In an Elle interview published on Monday, Mr Peters explained that his first wife, Heidi, underwent an abortion in the late 1980s that saved her life. At the time, Heidi was four months pregnant with the couple's second child, a baby they both wanted. But during Heidi's second trimester, her water broke, leaving the fetus without amniotic fluid.

The couple was told to wait at home for a miscarriage to naturally occur, but after that didn't happen, their doctor recommended an abortion because the fetus had no chance of survival. However, the Detroit hospital had a policy banning abortions, so Mr Peters and Heidi were told again to wait for a miscarriage.

As they waited, Heidi's health deteriorated. When they returned to the hospital on the third day, the doctor said she could lose her uterus if she wasn't able to have an abortion, and she could die if she became septic from the uterine infection. Even so, the hospital board refused the doctor's appeal for an exception to the anti-abortion policy. The doctor recommended the couple find another physician to do the procedure quickly, and Heidi was rushed into an emergency abortion that "saved her uterus and possibly her life," according to Elle.

In a statement to the magazine, Heidi said the experience was "painful and traumatic". She added, "If it weren't for urgent and critical medical care, I could have lost my life."

In telling his story, Mr Peters has become the first sitting senator in US history to publicly share a personal experience with abortion. He told Elle he decided to go public now because "it's important for folks to understand that these things happen to folks every day."

He continued, "I've always considered myself pro-choice and believe women should be able to make these decisions themselves, but when you live it in real life, you realize the significant impact it can have on a family."

The timing couldn't have been more appropriate. Confirmation hearings began Monday for President Donald Trump's Supreme Court nominee, Judge Amy Coney Barrett, who opposes abortion. As a law professor, Ms Barrett was among hundreds who signed an anti-abortion letter calling for an end "to the barbaric legacy of Roe v. Wade," the 1973 decision that legalized abortion.

Mr Peters told Elle that he will not vote to confirm Ms Barrett. He said, "The new Supreme Court nominee could make a decision that will have major ramifications for reproductive health for women for decades to come. This is a pivotal moment for reproductive freedom."

Mr Peters is running a tight re-election campaign against John James, a Republican who openly opposes abortion and called it a form of "genocide." 

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