Remembering our mothers and the movement they brought into being.Recently there have been a number of articles that have discussed the new, younger, more feminine face of the Pro-Life Movement. These articles have been excellent insofar as they have presented some wonderfully competent leaders within the Pro-Life Movement such as Marjorie Dannenfelser, Charlene Yoest, Kristan Hawkins to name a few.
It is however interesting how these articles need to create a fiction that somehow there were no women in leadership in the 70s,80s or 90s or that "those" leaders were hard hearted nd did not care about women. A recent article by Lisa Miller, published in the Washington Post, did a profile on Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List. It was sad to see how limited Miss Miller's awareness of the history of the Pro-Life Movement was when she could only refer to certain men in leadership such as Henry Hyde and Jerry Falwell, or limit women as Beverly LaHaye and Phyllis Schlafly. While leaders in their own right, especially Phyllis Schlafley, who successfully led the fight to stop the pro-abortrion ERA, the reference does not do justice to the courageous women in pro-life leadership during the last forty years. To forget these women who blazed a trail that our current leadership travel is to ignore a very important part of the Movement. I knew these heroes, some of whom have recently passed away and others who are now in the twilight years of their life. The next generation would be wise to learn from them and draw strength and determination from their example.
I especially want to recall five very important women whose efforts in the early days of the Movement left a powerful mark on the Movement. Dr. Mildred Jefferson, M.D., who recently passed away, was the first African-American woman to graduate from Harvard Medical School. She graduated with a masters degree from Tufts College prior to being accepted at Harvard.She later became a surgeon at Boston University Medical Center and a professor of surgery at the university’s medical school. She was an incredibly gifted speaker, and one of the founders of the National Right to Life Committee. As president of National Right to Life back in the 70s, her articulate and impassioned defense of the unborn is the stuff of legend.
I met Dr. Carolyn Gerster, M.D. not in Arizona but in Boston at the National Right to Life Committe Convention in 1976. A full-time doctor of Internal Medicine, she and her husband Dr. Josef Gerster, M.D. raised five sons, and also managed to be one of the founders of Arizona Right to Life, the National Right to Life Committee, and Arizonans for Life PAC. She was president of both AZRTL and later National Right to Life Committee for three years in the early 80s. Her forty-year involvement in the Pro-Life Movement, dated back to 1971 when she helped found Arizona Right to Life, and was an example of her complete and utter dedication to the cause. A powerful speaker, advocate and debater, she challenged conventional wisdom at the time and showed the pro-abortion extremists to be concerned about power and not about protecting women. As a result of her strong, compelling witness for life, she was shunned in her profession, a profession that failed to stand up and defend the unborn. Yet her compassion and dedication saved many lives and offered real hope to women with difficult pregnancies.
Nellie Gray was a Washington D.C. lawyer who retired from her work in the government to start the March for Life Committee. Another pioneer of the early movement, she made sure everyone held true to the principles of no compromise when it came to passing laws that would someday protect all human beings, born and unborn. The March for Life is the oldest longest continuing civil rights march in the history of the United States. Since 1974, pro-lifers have gathered in January to protest the Roe v. Wade decision. Still tough, still running the show, she is an example of someone who has "true girt."
Erma Craven, a Minnesota social worker back in the 70s and 80s, was one of the leading African-American women regarding the right to life of the unborn and the protection of women. She was another great leader who articulated a compassion not only for the unborn but for women who were being exploited by abortion.
Barbara Wilkie, the wife of Dr. Jack Wilkie, was a nurse, an educator, and a speaker on human sexuality. Together with her husband, they were an incredible team presenting a view on the dignity and sanctity of human life that we can only regret people do not follow. They started Cincinnati Right to Life, Ohio Right to Life and were founders of the NRLC.
Other strong women who were leaders in the Movement back in the 70s and 80s included Ellen McCormick, who actually ran for President as a Democrat, Anne O'Donnell of Missouri, Jean Doyle of Florida and Fran Driscoll of California.
These were women who set the stage for this next generation of leadership. These were women who like Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Stanton, and Alice Paul, called our nation to respect both the mother and her child, to protect both the mother and the child, and to pass laws that would guard the dignity of every human person.
I had the privilege of knowing and working with these incredible people. I know how proud they are or would be of the current efforts of this next generation of women in leadership. These women as their mothers before them recognize that the dignity of women is respected by protecting the children and the bond between mother and child and not creating conflict between them. The present day pro-life movement stands on the shoulders of these gritty, self sacrificing women. It is only right that the media acknowledge their contributions as well.