'The Mental Anguish Is Intense': Gary Peters Becomes First Sitting Senator to Share Abortion Experience
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United States Senator Gary Peters, a low-key, moderate Democrat from Michigan, is in a very close re-election race that could determine whether his party wins the Senate. But he's not the type who usually makes national headlines. He's more known for being a dad who loves riding his motorcycle and drinking the local beer than for saying attention grabbing things. It may come as a surprise, then, that with this story, he will be the first seated senator in American history to publicly share a personal experience with abortion.
"It's a story about how cumbersome and complicated decisions can be related to reproductive health, a situation I went through with my first wife," he told me in a phone interview on Sunday afternoon.
In the late 1980s, Peters and his then-wife Heidi were pregnant in Detroit and had their second child, a baby they wanted very much. Heidi was together for four months when her water broke and the fetus was left without amniotic fluid - a condition he couldn't possibly survive. The doctor told the Peters to go home and wait for a miscarriage.
But it didn't happen. The next day they went back to the hospital and the doctor noticed a weak heartbeat. He recommended an abortion because the fetus still had no chance of survival, but it was not an option due to a hospital policy prohibiting the procedure. So he sent the couple home again to await a miscarriage. "The mental anguish someone goes through is intense," says Peters, "and tries to miscarry for a child who has been wanted."
While they waited, Heidi's health deteriorated. When she returned to the hospital on the third day after another night without a natural miscarriage, the doctor told her the situation was dire. She could lose her uterus in a matter of hours if she couldn't do an abortion, and if she became septic from the uterine infection, she could die.
The doctor appealed to the hospital authorities for an exception to their anti-abortion policy and was denied. “I remember vividly when he left a message on the answering machine: 'You refused my permission, not because of good medical practice, only because of politics. I recommend that you find another doctor immediately who can perform this procedure quickly, ”recalls Peters.
The Peters could immediately go to another hospital because they were friends with its chief administrator. Heidi was placed in an emergency abortion that saved her uterus and possibly her life. The whole experience was "painful and traumatic," said Heidi in a statement. "Without urgent and critical medical care, I could have lost my life."
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Senator Peters is now reflecting on the experience, saying it "took an incredible emotional toll". So why go public with it? "It's important for people to understand that these things happen to people every day," he explains. “I've always considered myself pro-choice, and I believe that women should be able to make these choices for themselves, but when you live them in real life, you see the significant impact this can have on a family . "
Peters decided to share the story at that moment because the right to make decisions as a family without politics was never at stake again. He is alarmed by the threat that President Donald Trump's Supreme Court candidate, Judge Amy Coney Barrett, poses to women's reproductive rights. The very conservative candidate once signed her name in a newspaper ad with the title Roe v. Wade, the landmark decision of 1973 that legalized abortion “barbarically”. If the Republicans are successful in confirming her occupation of Ruth Bader Ginsburg's seat, she could reverse legal abortion in America or significantly curtail it. "It's important for people who are willing to tell these stories, to tell them, especially now," says Peters. “The new candidate for the Supreme Court could make a decision that will have a significant impact on women's reproductive health for decades to come. This is a crucial moment for reproductive freedom. "
It is also a defining moment for his campaign. With so much at stake for Peters in a purple state that ran short for Trump in 2016, it is remarkably brave of him to bring his own abortion story to the public less than a month before the election. Three members of the House have gone public on abortions - California representatives Barbara Lee and Jackie Speier, and Washington representative Pramila Jayapal - but no sitting Senators.
Peters' stance on the matter could not be more different than that of his Republican challenger John James, who supported the overthrow of Roe and called abortion "genocide". James is openly against abortion in almost all circumstances, including rape and incest cases, and he will not say whether he will support allowing the procedure to save the mother's life. National anti-abortion groups have supported James and put money into his Senate campaign.
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But abortion advocates hope that Peters, telling his story, will help give a human face to the sensitive and historically politicized topic and help them protect Ginsburg's legacy. "Senator Peters' family exemplifies the myriad of stories in our country about the injustice and harm that comes from allowing politicians who are ignorant of our lives to make decisions about our pregnancies," said Ilyse Hogue President of NARAL Silence, he not only gives a voice to what is at stake, but also reminds us of our common humanity and our pursuit of dignity and compassion as we fight for reproductive freedom for all. "
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