Mildred Jefferson Addresses the National Right to Life Conference
Surgeon and pro-life activist Mildred Jefferson (1926–2010) was the first Black woman to graduate from Harvard Medical School in 1951.
Beginning in 1970, Jefferson was active in the pro-life movement and instrumental in founding pro-life organizations in Massachusetts and across the United States.
Jefferson was president of the National Right to Life Committee when its annual convention was held in Boston in the summer of 1976. Invoking the bicentennial of the United States, Jefferson’s presidential address looked to extend the “unalienable rights” of the Constitution to the unborn child. Jefferson spoke urgently about the needs of poor women, and how the pro-life community had a responsibility to care for and assist them.
A gifted orator, Jefferson found public speaking to be an effective way to communicate her ideas about the value of life and her opposition to abortion. She encouraged young people to develop oratorical and rhetorical skills through a contest run by the Massachusetts National Right to Life Committee.
Listen to Mildred Jefferson address the National Right to Life Conference
For research tips and additional resources, view the Hear Black Women's Voices research guide.
[Start of track]
[Speaking: Unnamed Announcer]
Our first speaker this evening will be Dr. Mildred Jefferson. Born in Pittsburgh, Texas, Dr. Jefferson is a graduate summa cum laude of Texas College in Tyler, Pennsylvania. She received her surgical training at Boston City Hospital and Boston University Medical Center. Dr. Jefferson participated in cancer chemotherapy research under the late Dr. Sidney Farber at Children's Hospital Medical Center. Her postgraduate work in surgery was done at Massachusetts General Hospital. Dr. Jefferson is Assistant Clinical Professor of Surgery at Boston University School of Medicine, a member of the Council of the Massachusetts Medical Society, from Suffolk District, and a member of the American Medical Association. She is the first woman to serve a certain surgical internship at Boston City Hospital and the first woman ever of the Boston Surgical Society. Dr. Jefferson is President of the National Right to Life Committee, newly elected today.
[Speaking: Unnamed Audience member]
She was re-elected, she was re-elected. I know she said elected, she was re-elected.
[Speaking: Unnamed Announcer]
President and member of the Medical Advisory Board, she is a founding member and former president of the Value of Life Committee, a pro-life educational organization in Massachusetts, a member of the board of directors and Vice President of Massachusetts Citizens for Life. Dr. Jefferson serves on the Board of Directors of Americans United for Life and the National Right to Life Committee. A political independent, Dr. Jefferson is a member of the historic State Club of Boston and Dr. Jefferson is the most articulate and best recognized spokeswoman for pro-life in this country and in this world. Dr. Mildred Jefferson!
[Speaking: Mildred Jefferson]
Thank you so very, very much Friends for Life. I am so honored that we may share this moment of history. Welcome to the National Right to Life Convention. People have asked us why have we come to Boston at this time? Well, we've come to Boston at this time because we need to be reminded, as we stand on the eve of our 300th birthday, that if we can't recall the spirit of 1776, we don't have very much chance of getting to celebrate that 300th birthday.
There are those of us who believe that the Declaration of Independence is not just a collection of words on an old piece of paper. I know very well every person here could finish the sentence, if I started out by saying, “We hold these truths to be self-evident,” I think you remember the words. “We are endowed by the Creator with certain inalienable rights. That among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” But I wonder how many of you remember the rest of it? I wonder how many of you remember that Thomas Jefferson calls attention to the fact that governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed in order to ensure the rights that are affirmed in that Declaration. And I wonder if you remember what the duty and the obligation of the people is when government becomes destructive of these ends? It is the right, the duty and the obligation of the people to alter or to abolish the forms of government that become destructive of the ends of securing the rights that we consider to be affirmed.
I'm sure most people sitting here would never have dreamed that in this great land of ours, that a branch of our government, a branch which does not derive its unjust powers from the consent of the governed would actually have cancelled that inalienable right to life to the member of the human family that needs this most.
If there were no medical...
If there were no medical or moral or legal objections at all, I cannot accept the unfairness that the rest of the human family, our very strong society, that very strong team of woman doctors should be joined by the Supreme Court against this weakest member of our human family. But Thomas Jefferson was a very wise man in many ways. He recognized the very simple thing of human nature, people can become willing to endure, to suffer almost anything as long as they can suffer it, rather than take the effort, make the steps necessary to change or correct that which is causing the suffering.
But we don't want people in this great land of ours, to become accustomed to the willful slaughter of the innocent. We don't want them to become accustomed to the fact that some may sleep and not notice that the right to life has been cancelled for the unborn child. And because we do not want them to become accustomed to this great assault, to the slaughter of the innocent, then we are calling in 1976 at this National Right to Life Convention for the people of our land to join the right to life revolution, taking the spirit of 1776 here in 1976. We in the United States are standing at the same kind of crisis point that the settlers, that the colonists did back there in 1776. And again, as happened at that time, there are those who have not yet recognized the crisis. There are those who are asleep, there are those who do not recognize the threat, there are those who do not even know about the Supreme Court decision. But I know and you know, and because we do know, we have decided to meet that crisis point, and we will start the right to life revolution in this country.
Our revolution will not depend upon the weapons of war, as other revolutions have done. Without using killing weapons, we are going to try to stop the killing. Without using the kind of harsh or mean language that they use, we are going to try to stop the perilous unconcern for the feelings of people. We are going to try to overturn the kind of selfishness that is becoming rampant through our land. And our Right to Life revolution will be different from any revolution that the world has ever seen or ever known. In the revolutions of the past, the French Revolution, the Bolshevik Revolution, the revolution that brought communism to mainland China, it was necessary to destroy human affection. When the orders go out to the revolutionaries, for example, they must be carried out without question, even if it meant rising against a member of one's own family.
But in the Right to Life revolution, we will undertake to restore human affection. Our crusade is to save life and love in the United States. And we want to return human affection to such an extent that no mother, no woman, no matter how extreme her economic circumstances, no matter how extreme the difficulties of her life, would not be willing to use that as an excuse or reason for getting rid of the child that she is carrying. We want to restore human affection so that no family would put their standing in the society or their fear of scandal ahead of the life of that child that they did not expect, that would be born to their teenage daughter who was not married. We would expect the kind of human affection to be restored, so that no young man, no matter how much he fears responsibility, would welcome having the young woman get rid of a child to spare him an inconvenience or burden. And we want to restore human affection to the extent that no elected representative would ever want to use the funds that have been set aside to help the poor as a way of getting rid of the poor.
But we know that this will not be so very easy. It's so much simpler to try to avoid the problems of taking care of the poor, by finding some ways for the poor willingly to get rid of themselves. It’s made so very appealing, after all, who wants to feed that extra mouth? Who wants to have the welfare rolls increase? After all, rich women have always had abortion available, you certainly would not want to deny the poor what rich women have always had. But I ask those who offer this very, very cruel inducement to the poor: Why don't you make a list of the things that rich women have always had and let the poor women choose for themselves, don't just assign them abortion?
And I say to them, look at that poor woman and learn, because that woman generally loves her children. And when you take her children away, what does she have? She has nothing left. You can give her the excuse, the burden, and the guilt. You may tell her that you have relieved her for a moment, but you won't be there when she remembers her empty arms and the price that you made her pay. But they are not there when the women must pay this price. We know that we must reach those who are burdened by bills that they cannot pay. We know we must focus on health for those who don't know where to turn when they are in distress. But we know that we have the reach, we are the ones who must go forth helping to carry the message where they cannot go. And as we must speak for the unborn child that cannot speak for itself, we must take the message of those who are disenfranchised, or uneducated, or unknowledgeable in politics, to those who are making the decisions which will affect their very lives.
We can be nothing less than this.
You have come from all parts of this great land of ours. And I know how very hard it has been for some of you working in your individual groups. Many of you have told me how hard it is to raise the money, for example, even to do some of your mailings. Others of you have mentioned how very hard it is to reach the public to get the message out. Some of you have told me that actually you have had the notices of your meetings thrown away by some papers, who had their mail opened by people who were particularly pro-abortion. Some of you have told me that in spite of letters and appeals and telegrams that you have not had any opportunity at all to try to get balance to some of the discussions that have come out on the public media.
Well I say I'm familiar with some of the problems that you describe. Because sometimes the most influential of the national media have had to suffer a great burden, the burden of not upholding their obligation to defend the public's right to know. Instead, some of them, like Newsweek magazine, who has consistently used their “My Turn” page for the promotion of abortion, and have most recently given that page to John D. Rockefeller, the third, to carry out another promotion of abortion. We asked them: What have they gained by denying the public the right to know the facts on the Right to Life issue? We asked them, What have they gained by trying to narrow the issue so much, that they are actually jeopardizing the future of our country, by using the weight and power and influence of their reach, to manipulate this country along the route of population control and reduction, stabilization and reduction, in a way that jeopardizes our chances of getting into that third century. We must ask again and again, why they are denying the public's right to know and why they are denying the opportunity to get balance to the public on these issues. We must ask again and again, why they would deny the right of the people to exercise their freedom of speech, to reach the others who they must convince. We will ask them, why they use their pages and their circulation to promote again the most cruel kind of bias, that is part of the public promotion of abortion, because they had to bring out that same tired anti-Catholic bias that they fall on when they get desperate and know that the days are limited when our country will tolerate this abuse. They've tried so very hard to exploit a kind of religious sensitivity that has existed in our country. They’ve tried to force the religions apart by trying to provoke this kind of bias that would separate Catholic and Protestant and Jew. And then when they had done this, to separate the religions from within, because they know that the only way they can...
But all the religions of our country that are based in the Judeo Christian ethic must understand that we must stand together to defend our shared heritage. And as long as the 10 Commandments have not been rescinded, or revoked, there is no one that can honestly say that they are representing the great religions of this country and in favor of destroying the life of an innocent unborn child.
I am happy to stand and share with you this great moment in history. The time will come when those who are busy tonight will be sorry that they were not here.
They will be sorry that they did not stand with us and join with Archbishop Sheen and His Eminent Cardinal Madeiros, and you and you and you, to affirm the great principles on which our country was founded, because we know very well that we are engaged now in the greatest conservation effort our country has ever known. Did you know that this great land that now wants to put the Paw Paw and a few other plants on the list of endangered species does not recognize that now the American baby must go on a list of endangered species, and must be protected every much as that plant, the Paw Paw, or the Mediterranean mud seal, or the whooping crane, or the bald eagle.
Every person who recognizes this threat to our great land must join us in this effort, because if we don't, there won't be very much future for this land or for this world. For I truly believe that this land of ours, this great United States of America, represents the last great hope of the world. And we who would defend our traditional principles, our traditional standards and customs of law must stand in this defense. If we don't the United States will continue down the turnpike to extinction.
[End of track]