US Election 2020: Democratic Senator makes history by sharing abortion story

Democratic Michigan Senator Gary Peters.
Democratic Michigan Senator Gary Peters. Photo credit: Getty

A US Senator has made history by sharing a personal abortion story with the public - making him the first to do so while in office.

Gary Peters, a Democratic Senator from Michigan, told Elle magazine on Monday how abortion may have saved the life of his first wife.

It comes as President Donald Trump's Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett had her US Senate confirmation hearing on Wednesday (NZ time). There are concerns Barrett, a conservative and devout Roman Catholic, could cast a vote for overturning the landmark 1973 Roe v Wade ruling legalising abortion in the US.

Peters said the abortion happened in Detriot in the late 1980s when he and his then-wife Heidi were pregnant with their second child, a child they wanted to keep.

Heidi was four months pregnant when her water broke, creating unsurvivable conditions for the baby. 

Their doctor told them to go home and wait for a natural miscarriage, but it didn't happen and they returned to the hospital the next day, Peters told Elle.

The doctor recommended an abortion but it couldn't be provided at the hospital due to a ban, so the couple decided to wait another day.

But Heidi's health deteriorated and they returned to the hospital again, where the doctor told them the situation was dire and Heidi could lose her uterus if she didn't have an immediate abortion.

The doctor appealed to the hospital board for an exemption, to be able to provide an abortion, but it was denied.

"I still vividly remember he left a message on the answering machine saying, 'They refused to give me permission, not based on good medical practice, simply based on politics. I recommend you immediately find another physician who can do this procedure quickly,'" Peters told Elle.

The couple was only able to get an abortion because they were friends with the chief administrator at another hospital.

Heidi said in a statement the experience was "painful and traumatic".

"If it weren't for urgent and critical medical care, I could have lost my life."

Peters agreed it "enacted an incredible emotional toll".

"It's a story of how gut-wrenching and complicated decisions can be related to reproductive health, a situation I went through with my first wife," he said. "It's important for folks to understand that these things happen to folks every day.

"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 realise the significant impact it can have on a family."

He said it was particularly important to share his story ahead of the possible appointment of Barrett.

"It's important for folks who are willing to tell these stories to tell them, especially now," Peters 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."