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This Week in MIT History - 1989

By Aaron D. Mihalik

During the second week of November in 1989, much of the student body was consumed with the abortion debate. Students held forums to discuss the issues and vandalized opponents’ publicity material. The week culminated in student participation in the “March of Women’s Lives” in Washington D.C.

The two prominent student organizations involved were MIT Pro-Life and MIT Association for Women Students, which held a pro-choice stance.

During this week, MIT Pro-Life organized an Abortion Awareness Week and a pro-life forum. A drop poster to promote Abortion Awareness Week in Lobby 7 was set on fire. John Welsh ’92, a student who spotted the fire from across Massachusetts Avenue, described it as “a big pillar of flames.” Both groups condemned this act as irresponsible and disturbing.

The Pro-Life forum held during this week brought in speakers from National Right to Life and other pro-life organizations.

On November 12th, 300 MIT students participated in the “March of Women’s Lives” in front of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C.. Approximately 150,000 people participated in the march to raise awareness of issues surrounding abortion rights and current legislation. This demonstration occurred just prior to three supreme court decisions and after President George Bush vetoed bills involving medicare funding of abortion.

Some of the MIT students who were involved with the Lincoln Memorial March also participated in the Progressive Student Network March on the steps of the Supreme Court. Students tried to place a banner that said “Building condemned for insensitivity to women” on the Supreme Court. They were not able to hang it because a “a cordon of about 50 police officers standing shoulder to shoulder” with billy clubs were lined up across the entire width of the steps, according to AWS treasurer, Rebecca Kaplan ’92.

The handful of marches during 1989 in response to abortion issues attracted nearly 700,000 to Washington D.C. to protest. Protests of this magnitude had not been seen since the Vietnam demonstrations two decades earlier. The march was an attempt to influence several supreme court cases and to pressure Congress and the White house to keep abortion legal and funded.

In response to the march on November 12th, pro-life groups placed 4,400 crosses and Jewish stars on the White House front yard. The crosses and stars represented the people who die each day because of abortion.