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

 

Black History Month: Alveda King

From Alveda King’s blog at priestsforlife.org comes her reflection on being a participant in 2015’s March for Life in Washington:

Alveda King
Alveda King

…As I was sitting in front of the Supreme Court that day, my sixty-fourth birthday no less, the back and forth challenges between the pro-abortion protesters on one side and the pro-life marchers on the other side began to heat up. I began thinking of my uncle’s words, “We must learn to live together as brothers [and sisters] or perish as fools;” and I began to pray. As I prayed, I became grieved in my heart, and seemed to be lead by the Spirit of God to walk between the two groups and then lie down in the street with a sanctity of life sign and pray.

As I walked towards the young people I watched pro-abortion protesters with their white pants splotched with red [paint] “blood” between their legs; some waving coat hangers and hurling profanity into the air, my heart ached and I felt moved to pray for them.

I also prayed for my Pro-Life brothers and sisters who rallied to answer the pro-abortion voices. I thought about God’s Love and how people, not knowing and understanding John 3:16, are perishing for lack of the knowledge of the Love of God.

Somehow, the image of Dr. Billy Graham and my Uncle MLK preaching ad praying together against racism and segregation in the nineteen fifties fits in here. I’m praying that the racist roots of Margaret Sanger and Planned Parenthood will be broken….

My “pray in” demonstration was unplanned; stirred by a heart of contrition and compassion. Yet, I will keep praying, whether standing, sitting, kneeling or from the ground, every year that the Lord permits me to and I will continue to pray for all humanity, not just until the day that we abolish abortion in America and around the world; but until God’s love breaks through the stony hearts and HIS glory is revealed.

Two Women You Probably Didn’t Hear About During Black History Month

Meet Mildred Jefferson and Alveda King. Either of these gifted women could have lived a quietly successful life. They chose to stand up for the right to life instead, which pretty much put an end to any hope for “quiet.”

Mildred Jefferson, M.D.
MIldred Jefferson, M.D. (photo from masscitizensforlife.org)

 

I met Dr. Mildred Jefferson a couple of times, when she came to New Hampshire to testify in Concord on pro-life bills. She was petite, with a radiant smile, and she always dressed with elegance and simplicity and a hat to match. She looked quite unthreatening until she sat down and began to speak. Only then would everyone in the room realize what a powerhouse she was.

Born in 1926, she earned her bachelor’s degree at the age of 16, and went on to become the first black woman to graduate from Harvard Medical School. She was made of stern stuff. This served her well in her years as a surgeon, and even more so as she became outspoken in her defense of life and her opposition to abortion. She helped to found Massachusetts Citizens for Life in the early 1970s and later served as president of the National Right to Life Committee. From about 1970 until her death in 2010, she was a nonstop pro-life advocate.

Both times when I heard her testify, I listened to her describe the medical facts about abortion, its effects on women, and the development of the preborn child. Both times, I was indignant to the point of anger as some of our state representatives dismissed her medical experience and judgment as being somehow “ideological.” I never heard Dr. Jefferson raise her voice or utter an impatient word in reply. She knew someone with medical credentials had to go on record, even if some of the reps didn’t want to hear her. She did the same thing in State Houses all over the country. To this day, I am in awe of her energy, intelligence, and persistence.

Alveda King
Dr. Alveda King (photo from Facebook)

Dr. Alveda King grew up in the civil rights movement, and her biography says “she sees the prolife movement as a continuation of the civil rights struggle.” She is the niece of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (Her doctorate, like his, is non-medical.) She is based in Georgia, although her work takes her all over the country. She is currently working with Priests for Life as pastoral associate and director of African-American outreach. A post-abortive woman herself, she is part of the Silent No More Awareness Campaign, which encourages women who regret their abortions to speak up about the emotional and physical consequences they have endured.

I haven’t met her yet. I hope I will someday, just so I can thank her for what she’s doing.

This is all too brief a sketch of two women who deserve much more attention. They’re not in history books — not yet, anyway.