Mildred Jefferson dies at 84; leading anti-abortion activist

Dr. Mildred Jefferson, a nationally recognized leader of the anti- abortion movement and the first black woman to graduate from Harvard Medical School, has died. She was 84.

Jefferson died Friday in Cambridge, Mass., said Anne Fox, president of Massachusetts Citizens for Life. No cause was given.

Jefferson was a leader in many anti-abortion organizations. In the late 1960s, she helped establish the National Right to Life Committee, which includes 50 state groups and more than 3,000 local chapters nationwide. Jefferson served three terms as the group's president from 1975 to 1978.

"I'm opposed to abortion as a doctor and also because I know it is morally wrong," Jefferson told the Chicago Tribune in 1990. "An individual never has the private right to choose to kill for whatever reasons, be they whim, convenience or compulsion. Because I know abortion is wrong, I will use every means available for free people in a free country to see that it is not perpetuated."

Darla St. Martin, co-executive director of the National Right to Life Committee, called Jefferson an inspirational leader, "particularly during the 1970s when the movement was just beginning."

"She considered the right to life a very basic right just as she defended life as a doctor," St. Martin told The Times this week. "She simply believed that the movement should be for all people to defend all people."

Jefferson also was president of the Right to Life Crusade, director of Massachusetts Citizens for Life and was active in such organizations as the American Life League and Black Americans for Life.

"She was very influential," Fox said. "As a leader within the movement and a teacher and speaker, she had an impact on a lot of people."

St. Martin called Jefferson "an extraordinary orator who "transfixed people with her eloquent speeches."

Jefferson said Roe vs. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion, made doctors "killers for hire."

"It's too late for doctors to stay in that comfortable environment," she said in a 1975 appearance at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel that was covered by The Times. "Doctors must exert their rights and obligations or we will be the first slaves of the state and you will soon join us."

Jefferson was born in Pittsburg, Texas, in 1926, the only child of a schoolteacher and a minister. She graduated from Texas College in Tyler and earned a master's degree from Tufts University in Medford, Mass.

She graduated from Harvard Medical School in 1951 and worked as a doctor at Boston University Medical Center and an assistant clinical professor of surgery at Boston University's medical school. She also ran unsuccessfully several times as a Republican congressional and Senate candidate in Massachusetts.

Jefferson was divorced and had no immediate survivors.

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