Senator shares family's abortion story, 1st sitting senator to do so

"The mental anguish someone goes through is intense," Sen. Gary Peters said.

October 12, 2020, 6:56 PM

A Michigan senator facing a tense reelection race has become the first sitting senator, male or female, to share a personal abortion story with the public.

"The mental anguish someone goes through is intense," Sen. Gary Peters told Laura Bassett for Elle magazine, "trying to have a miscarriage for a child that was wanted."

As Peters, 61, told it, his first wife, Heidi, was about four months pregnant -- in the second trimester -- when her water broke, creating what their doctor said were unsurvivable conditions for the fetus. The couple was told to go home to miscarry naturally.

When a miscarriage didn't happen naturally by the next day, the couple returned to the hospital, where the doctor recommended an abortion but said it couldn't be provided there as the hospital had a ban. The couple went home again.

On the third day with no natural miscarriage, they again returned to the hospital where, Peters said, the doctor told them Heidi could lose her uterus or die of sepsis. The hospital denied the doctor's appeal for an abortion procedure, but the Peters were able to get the procedure at another hospital because they were friends with its chief administrator, Bassett reported.

"If it weren’t for urgent and critical medical care, I could have lost my life," his former wife said in a statement to Elle.

"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," Peters, who was elected to the Senate in 2014, told Elle.

PHOTO: Sen. Gary Peters leaves the Senate Democrats policy lunch in the U.S. Capitol in Washington, Sept. 10, 2019.
Sen. Gary Peters leaves the Senate Democrats policy lunch in the U.S. Capitol in Washington, Sept. 10, 2019.
Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images, FILE

He said he chose to come forward with his story now as the Senate considers President Donald Trump's Supreme Court nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett, who has signed her name to anti-abortion ads.

Barrett's confirmation would represent a solid conservative-leaning block for the court, which would likely impact abortion law in years to come. Depending on the outcome of a 5th Circuit decision, a case that would be a de facto ban on second-trimester abortions, by banning the dilation and evacuation method of abortion, could soon make it to the Supreme Court.

Republicans, including the president and vice president, have made a point of targeting Democrats' implicit support for the right to abortion in the second and third trimesters. According to the latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, abortions after 14 weeks' gestation make up about 8.9% of all abortions in the United States, with just 1.2% occurring after 20 weeks.

Pressed about the right to abortion in the third trimester in a Fox News town hall last year, in a clip that recently went viral on social media, then-Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg said, "We're talking about women who have perhaps chosen the name, women who have purchased the crib, families that then get the most devastating medical news of their lifetime, something about the health or the life of the mother that forces them to make an impossible, unthinkable choice. That decision is not going to be made any better, medically or morally, because the government is dictating how that decision should be made."

In his bid for reelection, Peters is facing Republican candidate John James in a contentious -- and costly -- race. According to FiveThirtyEight, Peters has had a slight edge in recent polls.