Classic Mildred Jefferson. Image is from the blog’s archives by way of the National Right to Life Committee.

Mildred Jefferson, from post from National Right to Life Facebook page

Mildred Jefferson on marches old and new

There’s going to be a Women’s March on Washington the day after the presidential inauguration next January, organized by women troubled by the incoming president.  Watch for abortion “rights” to be featured. A few pro-lifers are planning to join (or crash) the party, although my guess is that they’ll encounter some pushback. I’d love to be proven wrong.

Note that the March for Life, scheduled a year in advance, was pushed to January 27 by the Washington authorities who issue permits, in order for the March not to interfere with post-inauguration details including cleanup. Now the “Women’s March”, newly-organized, is scheduled for the day after the inauguration.  Go figure.

If you’ve been mulling over attending the March for Life or one of its state-level equivalents, this new event should be one more nudge.  The right to life needs to be asserted at an event where it’s not merely one thing in a long list of concerns. It’s basic. Roe v. Wade needs to be challenged from the pro-life side, not celebrated by anyone. Respect for women begins with respecting their very right to life from the moment of conception, without regard to age or health or condition of dependency. The policymakers in D.C., including the man who will be the new president on January 27,  need to hear that distinctive message.


People are welcome and needed at the March for Life in Washington as well as regional marches (in New Hampshire, that’s January 14, 2017), whether or not they come with religious convictions, and no matter who’s in the lead politically.

Those who are part of life-affirming churches have an enhanced responsibility to undertake peaceful public witness for life at those events.

I’ve been doing some research on the late Mildred Jefferson, a lion of the pro-life movement. Her papers are held by the Schlesinger Library of the Radcliffe Institute at Harvard. I found in there a handwritten draft of a 2003 message to pastors about the importance of public witness at marches for life. I don’t know if the message ever made its way into distribution, but something she wrote in the draft struck me as memorable.

…I will never believe that the loving-kind church communities that have supported the pro-life movement for so long can be any less charitable than the AIDS-walkers, hunger marchers or any others of those who support the hundreds of marches that go on now. 

To Dr. Jefferson, charity meant commitment.

What kind of public commitment will the pro-life movement demonstrate in January?

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

Embed from Getty Images

“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.”

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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