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Students march on Washington for life

By Prabhat K. Mehta

Seventeen MIT students traveled to Washington, DC, over the weekend to join the hundreds of thousands of others who participated in Saturday's Rally for Life '90. Participants gathered at the Washington Monument to pressure the government to outlaw abortion.

"Abortion in America is a tragedy," said President George Bush in a telephone message to the crowd. "Your presence on the Mall today reminds all of us in government that Americans from all walks of life are committed to preserving the sanctity and dignity of human life."

"Our mission must be to help more and more Americans make the right choice, the choice for life," he said.

"The pro-life movement is the humanitarian movement of our time," declared Vice President Dan Quayle, who addressed the crowd in person.

In a reference to the Supreme Court's 1973 Roe vs. Wade decision, which legalized abortion, Quayle said it "may have seemed the easy way out for a society reeling from the collapse of a moral consensus. Instead it turned out to be a way to shift onto women and children the burdens of the sexual revolution."

The U.S. Park Police estimated the crowd to be 200,000, though organizers claimed the size was closer to 700,000.

The rally, in the planning for a year, came in response to last spring's pro-choice rally, which, by park police estimates, drew 300,000, almost 400 of whom were MIT students. "We feel that it is important that we show we are still strong and still powerful," said John C. Willke, president of the National Right to Life Committee.

Pro-life advocates traditionally hold a demonstration on the Jan. 22 anniversary of the Roe decision. But the cold weather, coupled with the fact that the anniversary is often on a weekday, usually leads to crowds of only 70,000.

This rally, like last spring's pro-choice march, was intended to draw large numbers by taking place over the weekend on a warm spring day.

Unlike the pro-choice rally, which brought Hollywood stars and took an aggressive tone to preserve abortion rights, the pro-life demonstration proved more sedate, with parents and their children creating an atmosphere of religious optimism.

"You see families here, parents and children, senior citizens and students. Everyone is happy and excited," said Ann M. Brach G of MIT Pro-Life. "The pro-abortion march carried a lot of animosity, anger and defensiveness."

"This is just the beginning," said Margaret F. Keady '93, who was recently elected president of MIT Pro-Life. Keady served as MIT coordinator for the rally.

The optimism came despite recent setbacks for the pro-life camp. Nationwide, many pro-life politicians have been forced to modify their position in order to appeal to a general public which seems to marginally supports abortion rights.

In response to fears that the increasingly conservative Supreme Court might allow states to further tighten abortion laws, the Connecticut state legislature last weekend made that state the first to provide assurances that abortion would remain legal regardless of the High Court's position.

The events at the Washington Monument officially began at 2 pm and lasted approximately two hours.

Pro-lifers have recently criticized the media for what they claim to be biasedly pro-choice coverage of the abortion debate. They argue, for instance, that rally figures have been purposely underestimated.

MIT students have joined in this criticism. According to Keady, approximately 15 students joined other area pro-life supporters on April 21 in a protest of The Boston Globe sponsored by MIT Pro-Life.

At the Washington rally, Cardinal John O'Connor said, "I`m surprised at the number of television cameras here." But, in a cynical reflection, he added, "I wonder what will happen to all of the footage."

O'Connor also claimed that though he has "extended an invitation to all pregnant women in New York . . . to come to the archdiocese to receive full medical care . . . and help with child care or adoption," the media refuses to acknowledge it.

The MIT students were transported in two chartered buses provided by MIT Pro-Life. The buses left Friday evening, carrying a total of 93 Boston-area students.

(Editor's note: Henri Fuhrmann contributed to the reporting of this story.)