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Sen. Gary Peters shares his family's 'gut-wrenching' experience with abortion

Sarah Rahal
The Detroit News

U.S. Sen. Gary Peters is opening up about his family's experience with abortion in a moment when, he says, the civil right is at stake.

"My story is one that’s tragically shared by so many Americans," the Democratic senator from Bloomfield Township said in a statement to The Detroit News. "It’s a story of gut-wrenching and complicated decisions — but it’s important for folks to understand families face these situations every day." 

Sen. Gary Peters said of his decision to share the anguish that he and his wife experienced: "It’s a story of gut-wrenching and complicated decisions — but it’s important for folks to understand families face these situations every day."

During the late 1980s, Peters and his then-wife, Heidi, were pregnant with their second child, a baby the couple wanted, Peters told Elle magazine in an expanded interview. When Heidi was four months along, her water broke and left the fetus without the amniotic fluid it needed to survive.

The doctor told the Peters to return home and wait for the miscarriage to happen naturally, but it didn't.

The family returned to the hospital, where the doctor detected a faint heartbeat. The doctor recommended an abortion because the fetus had no chance of survival; however, the hospital's policy banned the procedure and the Peters were sent home to await the miscarriage.

“The mental anguish someone goes through is intense,” Peters told the magazine, “trying to have a miscarriage for a child that was wanted.”

As they waited, Heidi’s health deteriorated. Doctors said without an abortion, she could lose her uterus or become septic from the uterine infection and possibly die. The hospital board, which was not named in the story, denied the medical procedure based on the policy, according to the magazine. 

The Peters quickly transferred to another hospital and Heidi had an emergency abortion.

The whole experience was “painful and traumatic,” Heidi shared in a statement to Elle. “If it weren’t for urgent and critical medical care, I could have lost my life.”

The first-term incumbent is the first sitting senator to share an experience with abortion, according to the magazine. Peters' office said they were not aware he would be the first to do so.

Peters said he decided to share the story now because "the right to make such decisions as a family, free of politics, has never been more at stake."

The senator said President Donald Trump's Supreme Court nominee, Amy Coney Barrett, threatens women's reproductive rights because she once signed a newspaper ad that called Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 decision that legalized abortion, “barbaric” and a "raw exercise of judicial power." If she's confirmed to fill late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s seat, Democrats fear she would cast one of the votes to reverse legal abortion in America or significantly curtail it.

Republican supporters have said Barrett will decide cases based on the language of the Constitution and legal principles, not her personal views on issues.

Peters and Republican rival John James have been spending tens of millions of dollars to define themselves and redefine each other in a close Michigan race where traditional campaigning is hindered by COVID-19.

In a Facebook ad posted at the end of September, Peters claimed James "opposes abortion, even refusing to make an exception when a woman’s life is at risk."

James rebuked the claim. During an interview last week with WXYZ-TV, James was asked whether he is pro-life. He said yes, adding, "I will always vote to protect life, especially, the life of the mother." 

Most Michigan voters do not want the U.S. Supreme Court to reverse the Roe v. Wade precedent, according to a Sept. 30-Oct. 3 Detroit News-WDIV poll of 600 likely voters. Nearly two-thirds of respondents, 65%, said they are against the High Court reversing the decision, while 24% support overturning it, according to the Sept. 30-Oct. 3 poll of 600 likely voters.

The survey by the Lansing-based Glengariff Group had a margin of error of plus-minus 4 percentage points. Another 11% said they didn't know or declined to respond to the question.

Peters said he always considered himself pro-choice and believes women should be able to make the decision themselves, but after living it, he "realized the significant impact it can have on a family."

“It’s important for folks who are willing to tell these stories to tell them, especially now,” Peters told the magazine. “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.”

Twitter: @SarahRahal_