Abortion compromise may save UN debate

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The Independent Online
CAIRO - On the eve of the world population conference, delegates were 'very close' to reaching a compromise on abortion and birth control, after the European Union put forward a new text, a United States official said yesterday.

Timothy Wirth, Under-Secretary of State for Global Affairs, said the compromise would help calm the storm aroused by the original UN draft, which Catholics and Muslims say promotes abortion, promiscuity and homosexuality. The new text - backed by all 12 European Union member states as well as Washington - makes it clear that abortion is not to be seen as a method of family planning. It will be put forward at today's opening of the UN Conference on Population and Development.

During three preparatory conferences, delegates from 170 countries have agreed on more than 90 per cent of the plan for controlling population, including empowering women and ensuring that girls get equal access to education. Issues still to be resolved include abortion, sex education, women's access to family planning advice, and their right to choose the size of their families.

Mr Wirth said the Europeans had proposed to move references to abortion out of the section referring to family planning and put them into areas covering reproductive health care services. 'There will be language in the document that abortion is not to be construed or meant as a method of family planning,' he said. There was also progress on revising the language about adolescents. The Vatican has attacked the paper because it says minors should have access to contraceptives and abortion counselling in strict confidence.

The Pope - continuing one of the most heated campaigns of his 16-year leadership - condemned the gathering anew, with an attack on the 'dangerous shortcut' of reducing birth rates by any means. He has mobilised all the Vatican's resources in his diplomatic and religious crusade against abortion and contraceptives, which has allied him with fundamentalist Muslim states. But supporters of the UN plan for slowing the world's population boom are fighting back. The world's current population of 5.7bn people is growing by more than 90m a year.

The US Vice-President, Al Gore, arriving in Cairo, said the Clinton administration opposes language suggesting there is an international right to abortion. 'We have continuously made it clear that we will insist on language that the subject of abortion is one that each individual nation should deal with,' he said.

The head of the conference, Dr Nafis Sadik, said she was confident the controversy would be overcome. 'In my mind I have no doubt there will be agreement on these outstanding issues,' she said.

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