Mildred Jefferson: right to life “the cause of all those who care about fairness & justice”

“Dr. Jefferson was sitting at our table and wearing one of her trademark stylish hats. She had an air of natural dignity and depth that made me suspect that we were in the company of quiet greatness. Little did [we] know at the time that she was an American history maker and ground breaker for African Americans and women.”


That’s from the blog of Massachusetts Citizens for Life, written shortly after the death of Dr. Mildred Jefferson in 2010. Dr. Jefferson had served MCFL as president, among her many other pro-life activities. From the same blog post come these words written by Dr. Jefferson in 1977.

“We come together from all parts of our land … We come rich and poor, proud and plain, religious and agnostic, politically committed and independent. … the right-to-life cause is not the concern of only a special few but it should be the cause of all those who care about fairness and justice, love and compassion and liberty with law …”

Mildred Jefferson became active in the pro-life movement for the simplest of reasons: someone asked her. Pre-Roe v. Wade, the American Medical Association took a position deferring to increasingly-“liberalized” state laws on abortion. Dr. Jefferson was a surgeon by profession, and a fellow physician asked her to sign a petition objecting to the AMA’s move. The rest is history.

(Something to think about: have you invited anyone lately to get involved?)

Dr. Jefferson’s papers are held at the Schlesinger Library at the Radcliffe Institute of Harvard University (she was a graduate of Harvard Medical School). The mini-biography that accompanies her papers offers a glimpse into her activities. A partial list: one of the founders of Massachusetts Citizens for Life and the National Right to Life Committee, twice a candidate for U.S. Senate and once for the Eighth Congressional District, active with Americans United for Life Legal Defense Fund and Black Americans for Life, expert witness in court cases, and provider of expert testimony on legislation at every level from federal to municipal.

She assisted New Hampshire activists by coming to testify on life-issue bills. I asked New Hampshire Rep. Kathy Souza and former Rep. Phyllis Woods for some of their recollections. “She gave everything she had for the life rights of unborn babies, including her practice as a surgeon,” Souza told me. “She never complained, but always had a peaceful assurance that she was right in her pursuit of the truth and the right to life and let nothing discourage her. She always showed an inner confidence and was an inspiration. She came to speak for NHRTL at St. Casimir’s in Nashua back in the seventies.  My favorite image of her is the hat she was wearing then  — came to know it as part of her — a small hat, perched rather jauntily, but dignified.”

Woods recalls, “She took that Hippocratic Oath to the final degree. I remember when she was a speaker at the New Hampshire march for life in Concord. I was so impressed because she was going to run for Ted Kennedy’s seat. I thought ‘wow! What a gutsy woman!’ She was an awesome speaker.”

Souza adds, “She always managed to get in her favorite saying, that life should not be only for the ‘planned, the perfect, the privileged.'”

(c) Ellen Kolb/Leaven for the Loaf, 2016