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A Michigan senator shares his experience with abortion — the first sitting senator in US history to do so

Sen. Gary Peters.
Sen. Gary Peters.Tom Williams/Associated Press

Michigan Senator Gary Peters, a Democrat, and one who tends to steer clear of national headlines, made history Monday when he shared his family’s personal experience with abortion in an interview with Elle Magazine. Less than a month before a pivotal election, Peters is the first sitting senator in the US to publicly break the silence on such a highly contended and politicized issue.

In the late 1980s, Sen. Peters' wife at the time, Heidi, was four months pregnant with their second child when her water broke, leaving the fetus without amniotic fluid, a condition “it could not survive,” according to the magazine. Abortion was not an option due to the Detroit hospital’s policy, and the doctor told the Peters to go home and wait for a natural miscarriage.

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“The mental anguish someone goes through is intense,” Peters said in an interview with Elle Magazine. “Trying to have a miscarriage for a child that was wanted.”

But as Heidi’s health deteriorated, the situation became more critical, so the couple found another doctor at a different hospital who agreed to perform the procedure.

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

Reflecting on the experience now, Peters said: "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, said he chose to come forward with his story now as the Senate considers President Trump’s Supreme Court nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett, who has signed her name to anti-abortion ads.

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Barrett’s confirmation would represent a solid conservative-leaning block for the court, which would likely impact abortion law in years to come.

In a tweet Monday, Peters called his story one that is tragically shared by so many Americans.

“It’s a story of gut-wrenching and complicated decisions — but it’s important for folks to understand families face these decisions every day.”

In his bid for reelection, Peters faces off with Republican challenger John James, who supports overturning Roe V. Wade, the landmark 1973 decision that legalized abortion.

Peters joins a handful of members of Congress who have spoken about their personal experiences with abortion. Democratic California Rep. Jackie Speier discussed her procedure during a 2011 House debate over funding for Planned Parenthood. And last year, Democratic Washington Rep. Pramila Jayapal her story in an opinion piece for the New York Times.


Brittany Bowker can be reached at brittany.bowker@globe.com. Follower her on Twitter @brittbowker.