CAMBRIDGE, Mass. (BP)–Mildred Jefferson, a founder of the National Right to Life Committee and the first black woman to graduate from Harvard Medical School, died Oct. 15 in Cambridge, Mass. She was 84.
“The right-to-life movement has lost a champion and a pioneer. And we have lost a dear friend,” Darla St. Martin, co-executive director of the National Right to Life Committee, said in a statement. “Mildred Jefferson was a valued colleague in our fight for the most vulnerable members of our society and she will be greatly missed.”
In a profile of Jefferson in 2003, The American Feminist, a pro-life magazine, she was quoted as saying, “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 lives 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.”
Jefferson was born in east Texas as the only child of a Methodist minister and a schoolteacher, according to The Boston Globe, and she spent days riding around on the horse-drawn buggy of the local doctor as he made house calls.
After graduating from Texas College and Tufts University, Jefferson enrolled at Harvard and later became the first female doctor at Boston University Medical Center and a professor of surgery at the university’s medical school.
In 1970, when the American Medical Association passed a resolution stating that members could ethically perform abortions if the procedure was legal in their states, Jefferson began her fight against abortion, believing that the Hippocratic Oath required her to oppose the procedure.
After cofounding National Right to Life, Jefferson was elected vice chairman of the board in 1973, the year Roe v. Wade gave her profession “an almost unlimited license to kill,” she said. Jefferson subsequently served as chairman of the board for National Right to Life, and from 1975-78 she served three terms as the organization’s president.
In the 1977 National Right to Life convention journal, Jefferson wrote, “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.”
Jefferson testified before Congress in 1981 in support of a bill that sought to declare that human life “shall be deemed to exist from conception,” according to The New York Times. If the bill had passed, states would have been allowed to prosecute abortion as murder.
“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,” Jefferson said at the hearing.
As an outspoken political voice, Jefferson ran unsuccessfully for the U.S. Senate in 1982, 1984 and 1990. At the time of her death, Jefferson was serving as an at-large director on the National Right to Life board of directors, and she was a popular speaker at right-to-life conventions, rallies and banquets.
The nation’s largest pro-life group, National Right to Life has more than 3,000 local chapters nationwide.
“Mildred Jefferson used every forum available to educate America and encourage people of all ages to become active in the right-to-life movement,” St. Martin of National Right to Life said. “Her legacy will be the countless people — most especially young people — that she brought to the movement by her constant presence and tireless dedication to the cause of life.”
Compiled by Baptist Press staff writer Erin Roach.