The noise of the electoral season is no excuse for failing to remark on the passing of a great woman and, more importantly, celebrate her life. Let me make amends.
As reported by Dennis Hevesi in the New York Times' Obituaries for October 19, "Dr. Mildred Jefferson, a prominent, outspoken opponent of abortion and the first black woman to graduate from Harvard Medical School died Friday in Cambridge, Mass. She was 84."
Dr. Jefferson, a surgeon, was appalled by the 1973 decision, Roe v. Wade, which legalized abortion on demand for all nine months of pregnancy, up to the moment of birth. This decision, along with its evil twin, Doe v. Bolton, struck down all state restrictions on the practice, effectively allowing abortions in almost any circumstances including mere convenience.
Jefferson testified before Congress that these decisions "gave my profession almost unlimited license to kill."
"With the obstetrician and mother becoming the worst enemy of the child and the pediatrician becoming the assassin for the family, the state must be enabled to protect the life of the child, born and unborn," said the good doctor.
Dr. Jefferson, a native of Texas, was a founder and president (for several terms) of the National Right to Life Committee (NRLC), a federation of 50 state organizations and more than 3,000 chapters. She also served as director of Massachusetts Citizens for Life  and was active in Black Americans for Life.
She also found time to practice surgery at Boston University Medical Center and serve as a professor of surgery at the university's medical school.
By all accounts, including this writer's own observation, Dr. Jefferson was a charismatic leader. "She was probably the greatest orator of our movement," asserts Darla St. Martin, co-executive director of the NRLC. "In fact, take away the probably."
"I am at once a physician, a citizen and a woman, and I am not willing to stand aside and allow this concept of expendable human life to turn this great land of ours into just another exclusive reservation where only the perfect, the privileged and the planned have the right to live," said Dr. Jefferson in a 2003 profile in the American Feminist.
Reading Dr. Jefferson's obituary caused me to recall the many great women I had the privilege of working with in my early days, right out of law school, as the right-to-life movement emerged in my hometown of St. Louis. My wife, mother and aunts were among them. I had the same experience years later in Michigan.
They were usually strong personalities, be they introverted or extroverted, motivated more by a visceral love for children than any formal intellectual appreciation, say, of the realist philosophy of the Declaration of Independence and the inalienable right to life. That came later. They saw an injustice, an affront to the civilized order, and resolved to confront it head-on.
Many put their shoulders to the hard work of counseling and the support of alternative "birthright" services. My aunt Jane Mehan, a former nurse and mother of four, was president of the St. Louis chapter; and my mother spent many hours each week helping young women who were dealing with an untimely pregnancy. The support they gave unwed mothers was material, psychologicial and medical. Most important, they gave them hope.
Others became politically active, many for the first time, which seemed to come naturally to the Irish-Americans among them. These women were willing to put their solid Democratic credentials at risk for the good of the cause. I remember Mary Fran Horgan, a Latin instructor and savvy political mind active with the Pro-Life Committee of the Archdiocese, and Ann O'Donnell, a former nurse and strikingly beautiful woman who was national vice-president for NRLC and a scourge to venal politicians of either party.
Barbara Listing, head of Right to Life of Michigan, a political force in her own right, was scrupulous in supporting anyone, regardless of party affiliation, who stood up for the unborn.
More recently, Marjorie Dannensfelser, a former staffer to West Virginia's Democratic Congressman Alan Mollohan, started the Susan B. Anthony List, a political action committee with the aim of electing pro-life women of either party to Congress.
They were and are wealthy matrons and working-class women; lawyers and, like Dr. Jefferson, doctors; teachers and homemakers; mothers and daughters and grandmothers; caregivers and politicos. What they had in common was a determined commitment to restoring respect for human life in its most defenseless form.
So let us now praise famous women who understood that to love is to truly live.
Share this Article
Like this Article
Print this ArticlePrint Article