When news broke on Monday about the death of a prominent pro-life activist, I expected to read about it in the conservative and pro-life press. But I wasn't so sure what to expect in terms of the mainstream media. Dr. Mildred Jefferson was a legend in the movement. She was involved from the beginning, having helped found the National Right to Life Committee and serving three consecutive terms as its president. She was also an inspiration to younger activists and her many admirers. The mainstream media, of course, are not known for their thorough coverage of those who oppose abortion.
However, there was one other thing about Jefferson's life that made her newsworthy. Here's how The New York Times handled it:
Dr. Mildred Jefferson, a prominent, outspoken opponent of abortion and the first black woman to graduate from Harvard Medical School, died Friday at her home in Cambridge, Mass. She was 84.
Jefferson's achievements, which also include becoming the first female surgical intern at Boston City Hospital and first female doctor at the former Boston University Medical Center, are important. But I think it's proper and fitting to begin with her work fighting against the practice of abortion.
But what really marks this obituary, short as it is, is that its writer gave full treatment to Jefferson's beliefs about abortion. He didn't avoid them or treat them as unacceptable -- he simply presented them:
Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion, "gave my profession an almost unlimited license to kill," Dr. Jefferson testified before Congress in 1981. ...
"With the obstetrician and mother becoming the worst enemy of the child and the pediatrician becoming the assassin for the family," Dr. Jefferson continued to testify, "the state must be enabled to protect the life of the child, born and unborn."
Dr. Jefferson was small in stature -- Fox believes she often wore hats so she would not disappear into a crowd -- but she did not shrink from controversy. And she was not afraid to use blunt analogies to state her views. In a 2003 profile in the antiabortion magazine American Feminist, Dr. Jefferson said the antiabortion movement was "second only to the abolitionist movement" in the way it changed American thinking.
"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," she told the magazine.
While Jefferson's pro-life activism wasn't religious in nature, I was curious to find out more about her religious beliefs. The Globe gave a hint -- Jefferson was the only child born to a Methodist minister and a school teacher.