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Mildred Jefferson, pro-life leader, dies at 84
Nancy Frazier O'Brien
Source: Catholic News Service
Published: Thursday, October 21, 2010
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WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Dr. Mildred Jefferson, a leader in the pro-life movement for decades who was also the first African-American woman to graduate from Harvard Medical School, died Oct. 15 at her home in Cambridge, Mass. She was 84.

No cause of death was announced.

Among the groups praising Jefferson's pro-life work over the years were the Massachusetts Catholic Conference and the National Black Catholic Apostolate for Life.

"When others were silent, Dr. Mildred Jefferson refused to be silent," said Franciscan Father James E. Goode, president of the New York-based National Black Catholic Apostolate for Life. "Her voice and presence were heard throughout this nation proclaiming the dignity of all human life."

Gerald D'Avolio, executive director of the Massachusetts Catholic Conference, said Jefferson's role in the pro-life movement "demonstrated the movement's breadth and depth -- she was a pioneer in breaking barriers in the medical field and she was a dedicated physician who defended the dignity of the human person with intelligence and verve."

"Her respect for the Catholic Church and her willingness to provide compelling legislative testimony over the years in alliance with the Massachusetts Catholic Conference will always be remembered and appreciated," he added.

The daughter of a public school teacher and a Methodist minister who continued to refer to herself as a "preacher's kid" throughout her life, Mildred Fay Jefferson was born in Pittsburg, Texas, and earned a bachelor's degree summa cum laude from Texas College in Tyler and a master's degree from Tufts University in Medford, Mass., before attending Harvard Medical School.

She was the first female surgical intern at Boston City Hospital and the first woman admitted to membership in the Boston Surgical Society.

She was among the founders of the National Right to Life Committee and was elected vice chairman of the board in June 1973. She served three consecutive terms as president of the organization from 1975 to 1978.

"I became a physician in order to help save lives," Jefferson once said. "I am not willing to stand aside and allow the 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 a right to live."
In 1976, Jefferson defended the Catholic Church against charges by abortion advocate Bill Baird that the church was using the pro-life movement as a "political front."

"The Catholic Church is not leading the Right to Life Committee," she said. "The Catholic Church is being maligned and everyone who condemned the recent United Nations' resolution on Zionism should condemn the kind of bigotry shown to the Roman Catholic Church."

Darla St. Martin, co-executive director of the National Right to Life Committee, said the group had lost "a champion and a pioneer" and "a dear friend."

"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 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."

Jefferson ran unsuccessfully for the U.S. Senate in 1982, 1984 and 1990.

At the time of her death, she was an at-large director on the board of directors of the National Right to Life Committee, as well as president of the Right to Life Crusade and a director of Massachusetts Citizens for Life. She was a past president of the Value of Life Committee of Massachusetts and also was active with the American Life League, Americans United for Life Legal Defense Fund and Black Americans for Life.

She was the recipient of honorary degrees from 28 colleges and universities.

Jefferson, who was divorced, had no children.

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