A few years ago I gave a speech for the Massachusetts Citizens for Life, on what the license to abort children does to a people who allow it. It was not a "political" speech in the sense of the word common among us now; it had nothing to do with federal policies, or with any current partisan controversies. It was rather a spiritual meditation. I tried to imagine what it must have been like to live in a culture whose members would understand, not just with their scripturally trained ears but in the pulses of their blood, what it was to be Scrooge on Christmas morning, rejoicing and crying out, "I don't know anything! I am quite a baby!" Not the same as those who treat children as a lifestyle accessory, and who shunt them off into institutions as soon as they can.
There was an elderly black woman sitting in the front row, rapt, nodding occasionally and smiling. Only after the talk did I learn who she was. Dr. Mildred Jefferson was the first African American woman to graduate from Harvard Medical School, having racked up an impressive educational resume along the way. She continued in a remarkable career of firsts (she was a surgeon and a professor of surgery at Boston University), and no doubt would have been celebrated as a cultural heroine from coast to coast, had not something happened in America to change her public life forever. That something was the abortion license. Of that license Dr. Jefferson had this to say:
"I became a physician in order to help save lives. I am at once a physician, a citizen, and a woman, and 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 the right to live."
She quickly became one of the most active crusaders in the nation for the right to life of unborn children: one of the founders of the National Right to Life Committee. She never ceased to try to make public that vicious racism of the early eugenicists, including Margaret Sanger, that caused them to advocate contraception and abortion for less desirable "stock," to use the barnyard word common at the time. I was told by Anne Fox, her friend and the president of Massachusetts Citizens for Life, that Dr. Jefferson was the person who brought Ronald Reagan into the pro-life fold.
I'm proud to say that Dr. Jefferson thought very highly of the talk. We chatted a bit afterwards. It became clear immediately that she was a woman of profound Christian faith, and proud of her heritage as a black American. She understood that her fight for the unborn was but a chapter in the African American fight for full participation as citizens in our republic. It was an honor to meet her. A year later I again gave an address for the Massachusetts Citizens for Life, this time for a large fundraiser, and again Dr. Jefferson was in attendance, and we exchanged words of warm good will.
Dr. Mildred Jefferson died yesterday at age 84. One might have supposed that such a trailblazer for civil rights would have merited a rich obituary in our nation's newspapers, but if the clipped account that I have read in the Los Angeles Times is typical, that is not to be the case. Indeed, the obituary mentioned nothing of her personal influence on President Reagan, nothing of what she perceived as the congruence of her struggle against racial discrimination and her advocacy for the unborn, and nothing of her Christian faith.
I am often struck by the flatness and drabness of the secular world, its downright prurient itch to reduce all human things to easily quantifiable measurements, its incuriosity into the mysteries of human existence, its nervous dismissal of all but the tamest of virtues, and its incapacity for wonder. Dr. Jefferson shone with wonder. May she now hear the words our Lord has promised that his own shall hear: "Well done, thou good and faithful servant! Enter into the joy of thy Master."