Italian allies fall out over abortion

VATICAN CITY (AP) - A Vatican campaign to forge an anti- abortion alliance at a population summit in Cairo next month has put pressure on Italy, causing new strains in Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's coalition government. It has set one Cabinet minister against another and brought demands that the government keep its hands off the country's abortion law - one of the most liberal in Europe.

Italian officials recently disclosed that the Cairo conference was an issue during talks between the Foreign Minister, Antonio Martino, and the Vatican last month. But the issue came to a head yesterday after Vatican Radio broadcast an interview with Altero Matteoli in which the Minister for the Environment called abortion a 'type of homicide.' The Minister of Health, Raffaele Costa, replied that he found it unacceptable 'that someone who is exercising a right under the law should be called a murderer'.

The Vatican has been staging its lobbying effort for the UN Conference on Population and Development, pressing the international community to write in a provision in the final document that would bar any promotion of abortion. In a briefing paper released this week, the Vatican, which is counting on a coalition of Catholic and Islamic countries to rally to its side, said the future of humanity was at stake.

The Pope and President Bill Clinton clashed over the abortion issue during a Vatican audience in June. Mr Clinton insisted that his Administration would not promote abortion as a means of birth control but made it clear that it would support the availability of abortion. Although Italy is overwhelmingly Catholic, the legislature legalised abortion in 1978, permitting abortions virtually on demand in state-run hospitals, during the first three months of pregnancy .

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