The Boston Globe from Boston, Massachusetts on December 5, 1976 · 121
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The Boston Globe from Boston, Massachusetts · 121

Boston, Massachusetts
Issue Date:
Sunday, December 5, 1976
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Dr. Jefferson and her fight against abortion By Otile McManus Globe Staff When Mildred Fay Jefferson was growing up in the small east Texas town of Carthage, she used to follow the local doctor, a general practitioner, as he traveled the countryside making house calls. "I remember being impressed that people got well after his visits," she recalled recently. "It wasn't until I was older that I realized people only called him if they thought he could do something. Otherwise he'd have to make a second trip out to sign the death certificate." i J Today, some 40 years later, the black woman, Boston surgeon and perhaps the most visible member of The-National Right to Life Committee, suggests that this childhood experience profoundly influenced her decision to become a doctor. She also maintains that her chosen professionforged against what some would consider to be insurmountable odds-has profoundly influenced he? well-publicized stand against legalized abortion. ' "I took the Hippocratic oath," she explained.' "As a physician, I am morally bound to the preservation of titV As far sa I'm pnnrprrnrf. ahortion is a process by which a pregnancy is interrupted for the purpose of preventing the birth of a living child. As far as I'm concerned, it's killing an unborn child." Sitting in her neat-as-a-pin office in the Doctors' Building, near City Hospital, Dr. Mildred Jefferson, an assistant clinical professor of surgery at Boston University, repeated the finely turned positions which have brought her national prominence. During the past six years, Jefferson has carried her definitions, arguments and philosophical perspectives to public forums across the country. She has jdebated the experts on television, mastered the art of the after-dinner speech and challenged countless opponents in qhurch. basements and high school auditoriums. " To those on her side of the issue, she's a heroine, Joan of Arc and Miss Jjane Pittman rolled into one. As one member of a Massachusetts right to life group put it: "She can say everything I believe and make it sound so jnuch better than I can. What a good woman, so intelligent, so poised, so "articulate. We'relucky she's with us." To those on . the other side, she is "something of a mystery, this well-edu-"cated black woman, the first to graduate from Harvard Medical School, in - 10C1 . . .1 ' n - l if - . i . wiius auieu weiseu wmi uic generally conservative members of the TV invading Toyland with By Margo Miller : Globe Staff ' Armed with the Christmas lists of her two children, Sally Pisciotta. looked down the long aisles of the toy store to get her bearings. Boxes of dolls and doll accessories were off to her left, games and crafts straight 'When you believe something is wrong, you speak out. You wouldn't stand by on a cliff and watch somebody walk off We have to protect the weak and the helpless, the unborn.9 pro-life movement. Some call her a political opportunist, others use words like "dangerous," "anti-medicine," "publicity hungry," "fanatical" and ' "infuriating." But nearly all temper their remarks with admiration of her skill. Dr. Malkah Notman, a Brookline psychiatrist and professor at Harvard Medical School, has debated the abortion question with Jefferson on several occasions. "She is so single-minded," Notman explained. "She doesn't tend to get swayed by your arguments, in fact, she doesn't really listen to you. She just repeats her point of view over and over again. You don't really engage her in a discussion." Her' skills stood her in good stead two years ago during the course of the trial of Dr. Kenneth Edelin, the Boston gynecologist charged with manslaughter in conjunction with an abor tion he'd performed.: . . . t, " She was the first, "Witness for the' prosecution, called upon to provide medical definitions and background. . According to observers she proved to be the 'most "persuasive" witness for the prosecution. "She came into the courtroom, a .Wlk doctor, M tore ol ilrself, t$f& together. You just couldn't ignore her . or what she stood for," one said. "She was just so cool." Although her office is only three floors up from Edelin's in the Harrison avenue complex, Jefferson hasn't run into him since the jury handed down the guilty verdict presently pending appeal. She laughed and said that she'd be able to hold her own should their paths cross. "I guess unflappable is a good word to describe me," she continued. "If I flap, I flap deliberately." The unflappable Jefferson doesn't believe that a woman has the right to choose an abortion under any circumstances. As president of The National Right to Life Committee, a 3'2-year-old non-profit organization headquartered in Washington, D.C., she is committed to action, such as a right-to-life amendment, which would reverse the 1973 Supreme Court decision affirming that right. In 1973, the court found all state laws prohibiting abortion during the first three months of pregnancy unconstitutional and ruled that abortion was essentially a private matter between a woman and her physician. "I was raised in the Wesley-Calvin-" ist tradition. When you believe something is wrong, you speak out. You wouldn't stand by on a cliff and watch ahead, male action figures and vehicles to the right. "He. wants Hit 'n Run Pinball, whatever that is," she said, consulting the carefully printed and numbered list of her son Jascn, who's a seven-year-old second grader in Scituate. "The problem with me is I'm not. a television watcher and the new toys they are pushing come out on television." On the list of Jessica, who's five and in kindergarten, was something called a Rock 'n Roll doll stroller. "She wants this in the worst way," said, her mother. "If it will give her some enjoyment, I'm going to get it even if I think the music box (attached to the stroller frame) won't last." She bent down to examine the plastic seat. "See, it's not even well-.sewn. I don't know." A game called Perfection passed muster. "They were going to get this even before I saw it on television. My friend had it. It's a terrific game. It takes real skill," she said. Players racing the timer, she explained, must fit odd-shaped objects into the TT O O . TJIwAttti Dr. Mildred Fay Jefferson: skillful, committed. (Globe photo by Joseph Dennehy) somebody walk off," she said. "My sympathy has always been with the underdog. We have to protect the weak and the helpless, the unborn." Members of the pro-life movement, as they prefer to be called, generally share her sentiments. Although Jefferson claims that it's impossible to estimate the membership exactly records are kept on a chapter by chapter basis she believes the movement's growth has had an impact in the political arena. While disheartened by the defeat of pro-life candidates like Republican Sen. James F. Buckley in New York, Jefferson, who's been elected to the committee's non-salaried presidency for two consecutive years, said that correct odd-shaped holes. The game went into her shopping cart. Sally Pisciotta's visit to the toy store illustrated many points being made by persons concerned with the quality of playthings and their merchandizing. Too many toys these days "are designed more to make a good television commercial than a good plaything," says one critic, Peggy Charren of Newton, who as president of ACT Action for Children's Television keeps an eye on how toy manufacturers promote their wares, especially during the holiday season when 60 percent of the sales in the $3 billion a year industry occur. "We are tremendously concerned that the toy industry has not got the message about selling directly to children through television," says Charren. "That makes it even more important that parents know what's happening on television to sell toys to children .for Christmas and Chanukah." IIP' other races around the country were affected. She claimed many candidates were forced to modify their position on the issue. As a non-profit organization, The National Right to Life Committee is prohibited from engaging in any direct lobbying or political activity and Jefferson said the organization is scrupulous in complying with that law. Members of the right to life movement work on their own behalf. "We are looking ahead to 1978," she said. "Next time around we're going to have the money. How can a Robert Dinsmore defeat a Ted Kennedy without millions?" During the primaries, Jefferson, who wouldn't rule out her own candi a vengeance According to studies done by ACT, children watch something like 25 hours of television a week; and about 80 percent of the commercials aimed at children are for toys. "And then with licensing, all their toys relate to what they see on television. That deprives children of other important childhood experiences that don't happen on television." Licensing is the mutually serving tie-in between certain television , shows or commercial products and the toy manufacturers. A successful show or a popular product creates a market for a toy based on it. Owning the toy encourages the child to keep watching the show or wanting the product, Charren says Some fast food chain's such as Kentucky Fried Chicken and Pizza Hut, have licensed toys based on their enterprises. So has McDonald's which has licensed not only a board game the winner sells the most burgers but an elaborate playset. There's an "environment," costing about $15, which consists of the restaurant with food and tables, set in BOSTON SUNDAY fit if dacy sometime in the future, supported the one-issue campaign of Ellen McCormack, the Long Island housewife who garnered 22 delegate votes at the Democratic convention last summer. She appeared in television ads for the candidate. But Jefferson also 'expressed the opinion that a candidate's right to life position took precedence over any other. In her Lifelines column in The National Right to Life News' last March, she wrote: "It is clear to me that the primaries are where the 'vote for the unborn' can be most effective and here is where the right to life position must be the priority position for judging the candidate ... There has been no evidence to show that Gover fun park. Figures, which cost $4 each, are based on the fanciful characters from the television commercial aimed at McDonald's young customers. "We're bringing to the child what McDonald's portrays in the commercials," says Matt Zale of Remco, the firm which makes the toy. ACT has other gripes about most 30-second toy commercials. They mislead the child about a toy's total cost. They mislead about the things a toy can be made to do. Sally Pisciotta, though she claims not to watch much television, seems to operate on the principle, to paraphrase an old card-playing expression, that one peek, in the packaging is worth any commercial's finesse. Like all parents, she's concerned with safety. The Tonka line of trucks, earth movers, bulldozers and rescue vehicles got full marks from her. "They're really sturdy and all the corners are rounded off and there's nothing sharp." TOYS, Page A13 GLOBE December 5, 197S A9 -' Antiques an Engagements a? i Weddings nor Wallace has ever supported abor- ! That a black woman could come ' that close to endorsine the candidacv of George Corley Wallace, who stood 1 nrtt-n ...:u x : ,. U ,. 1 .. v - I 1- . f .1 T . T . . 1 1 uacn oi me jusuce ueDi. ai me aoors of the University of Alabama in 1963. y might surprise many people. But so ! might her other,. political stands.1 Against welfare and busing, she sup-'S ports the death penalty and opposes'? ratification of the Equal Rights' Amendment. !'i "I come from the rational indepen-' dent tradition of the party of Lincoln, the party that freed the slaves," she said. "Minority groups seem to wed'" themselves blindly to the Democratic party and end up trapped by bribes, deals, excuses, delays and disappoint- ments. To me, the Democratic party represents the worst kind of tokenism." ,j Her good friend, Dr. Barbara Rock-:j ett, a Brookline surgeon who initially interested her in the right to .life movement in 1970, described her polity ically conservative point of view as-j "consistent." But another active mem-g ber of the right to life movement, ad lawyer who preferred to remain anonymous, is troubled by some of Jeffer-j son's positions. "I have agreed with her 100 percent on the abortion ques- ? tion. If I have any reservations, they're' about her motives not her beliefs," he said. "There's no excuse for her alli-i ance with the anti-busers. I think she enjoys the limelight." But Mildred Jefferson has always-preforred to gohe'r owfl way 'avoiding identification with the special interests of either blacks or women. . Dr. Elizabeth Mogul, a Newton psy chiatrist and Jefferson's peer at Har-S vard Medical School, recalled that thew question of more flexible residencies for women came up at a meeting of IT 3 1: 1 . , L , I Utuvcuu ineuiucii wumeu' uuuuv tix. years ago. According to Mogul, Jefferson was one of possibly two women in the room opposed to loosening up rigorous requirements. "We had been together at Harvard, pre-consciousness raising. There was a. very ingrained machismo at the time, that most of us accepted as natural. I imagine that being a woman and being-black might have been a double, burden," Mogul said. "So I was surprised at the meeting when she reflected the attitude of this-is-what-it-takes-to-be-a-doctor, that it was-self indulgent to think of it any other-'? way." -. A former colleague recalled a similar incident which took place at BU" Medical School several years ago. Black members of the faculty were or-i ganizing a caucus to consider their . problems and the problems of black' students. Jefferson was sent an invita-?. tion to join and she fired back an in-d dignant letter declining membership. A "I have found the whole emphasis on ethnicity and separatism selfT";i defeating. There is no way to say blacky is beautiful without provoking a re-'; : sponse of white is right," Jefferson explained. "I prefer to let my life speak for itself." 'I - ' ABORTION, Page A17 1

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