Abortion Aside, Cairo Meeting Debates Other Issues

TEMPORARILY setting aside the contentious issue of abortion, delegates at the United Nations population conference in Cairo turned to discussing how to spend a proposed $17 billion budget on a 20-year plan to slow population growth.

The abortion issue has proved so divisive that delegates assigned it to a special committee, which is to report back today on how to resolve disputes over the language of one section in the 113-page draft plan.

The Vatican, backed by countries such as Malta, Guatemala, and Honduras, argues all abortions are inherently unsafe and violate the sanctity of life from the moment of conception.

But an overwhelming majority of delegates have reached agreement on the issue and want to press on with other parts of a declaration -- setting guidelines that should hold population to a target of about 7.27 billion in the year 2015, up from 5.7 billion today.

Delegates were holding to the draft plan's $17 billion target budget yesterday, but reportedly still disagree about how the money would be divided among categories such as family planning, AIDS prevention, research, and reproductive health.

The abortion debate has revealed growing anger among many delegates at the domination of the conference by the issue, which most consider peripheral to the issues of population and economic development.

Women's groups say the conference is doing little to encourage men to take responsibility for birth control, and point out that only about 1 percent of the draft document addresses men's role in family planning.

No country will have to put into practice the recommendations being fashioned at the 182-nation meeting, which is intended to set guidelines for the next 20 years for slowing the population explosion and encouraging third world development.

A paragraph on abortion places priority on making family planning available to reduce abortions. It says abortion should not be encouraged as a method of family planning and its legality should be left to individual countries. It also says women with unwanted pregnancies must be treated compassionately, not punitively.

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