"It's important for folks to understand that these things happen to folks every day," Gary Peters told Elle
Senator Gary Peters
Michigan Sen. Gary Peters
| Credit: Tom Williams - Pool/Getty

A Michigan politician this week told the "gut-wrenching and complicated" story of when his ex-wife chose to have an abortion decades ago.

In an interview with Elle published Monday, Gary Peters became the first sitting U.S. senator to publicly share a personal story involving abortion.

“It’s important for folks to understand that these things happen to folks every day,” he told 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.”

Speaking with the magazine, Peters, 61, recalled how his ex-wife, Heidi, endured possibly life-threatening pregnancy complications in the late 1980s when Heidi’s water broke at four months, leaving the couple's fetus with no amniotic fluid with which to survive.

After going to the hospital, their doctor recommended they go home and wait for a miscarriage, Peters told Elle. When the miscarriage never happened, they returned to the hospital, only to be told to return home to continue waiting for a miscarriage to occur naturally because of a hospital policy banning abortions.

It was agony, Peters told Elle: "The mental anguish someone goes through is intense, trying to have a miscarriage for a child that was wanted.”

After day three, the couple found themselves at a crossroads. Though the doctor had been able to detect a faint heartbeat, he warned that the child would not survive. Heidi had still not had a miscarriage, though, and was now in danger of suffering a potentially fatal uterine infection.

Their doctor then appealed to the hospital board for an exception to the abortion ban but was denied, Peters said.

Eventually, the future senator and his then-wife were able to find a doctor at another hospital to perform an abortion to save Heidi's uterus.

“If it weren’t for urgent and critical medical care, I could have lost my life,” she said in a statement to Elle, calling that chapter "painful and traumatic."

Peters’ decision to go public with his story now — less than a month before he is up for re-election, in what polls show may be a tight race against challenger John James — is to highlight how abortion can be a life-saving procedure for many women and to personalize choices that politics often reduces.

"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 told Elle.

While Peters is the first sitting senator to speak publicly about their experience with abortion, some members of the House of Representatives have shared their own stories in the past, including California Democrat Jackie Speier and Washington Democrat Pramila Jayapal, according to Elle.

Abortion access has long been a divisive topic, having been legalized throughout the country with the Supreme Court's decision in Roe v. Wade in 1973. With this week's Senate confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett, Democrats say the issue is again top of mind.

If confirmed, Barrett — who has been nominated to the court by President Donald Trump — would take the seat left vacant by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who was the court’s leading liberal voice and a proponent for the pro-choice movement before her death last month.

While Republicans say Barrett's future rulings should not be assumed, Trump said in 2016 that his judicial picks would help overturn Roe v. Wade. Barrett, a conservative Catholic, previously voiced her personal opposition to abortion.

The president has since softened his public stance on only picking avowed anti-abortion judges and surveys show most Americans support women's ability to have an abortion in at least some cases.

During the first presidential debate, Trump scolded Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden for his remarks about Barrett, saying, "You don't know her view on Roe v. Wade. You don't know her view."

In her confirmation to the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, Barrett said she had "no interest in" challenging the precedent of Roe v. Wade.

She has not ruled specifically on abortion in the past, but she did reference the topic in a 2016 appearance in Florida, saying she didn't think "abortion or the right to abortion would change," but that "some of the restrictions would change."

"The question is how much freedom the court is willing to let states have in regulating abortion," Barrett said then.