U.S. Won’t Press Abortion on Other Nations, Gore Says
The Clinton Administration will not press other countries to adopt pro-abortion policies as a means of controlling population growth, Vice President Al Gore declared Thursday, hoping to defuse a confrontation between the United States and the Roman Catholic Church in advance of an international population conference.
“Let us take a false issue off the table,” Gore told reporters. “The U.S. does not seek, has not sought, and will not seek any international right to abortion. We do not believe that abortion should be a method of family planning . . . and we abhor and condemn any coerced abortion.”
His remarks were in response to the Vatican’s criticism of some facets of a multinational plan that is being designed to stabilize the world’s population growth.
Even the restrained clerics of orthodox Islam have raised a voice of protest, arguing that many of the conference’s frames of reference on family lifestyles, women’s inheritance rights and abortion run counter to the teachings of the Koran.
The plan, still in draft form, is to be debated at the U.N. Conference on Population and Development in Cairo next month. Experts estimate that declining mortality rates and a high birthrate will push the world’s population from the current 5.6 billion to 8.5 billion by the year 2025.
Some of the programs in the plan would attempt to slow that growth by improving the economic and social status of women, expanding access to birth control and family planning advice, increasing literacy and improving health care for children.
Population planners reason that increased levels of literacy and greater freedom among women will result in more couples choosing to use contraception and limit the size of their families.
If health care for children is improved, these experts say, parents will become more confident about their offspring reaching adulthood and have smaller families.
But the plan also treads on more controversial ground by explicitly advocating the right of women to “safe, effective, affordable and acceptable methods of fertility regulation of their choice,” and including “pregnancy termination” as part of the reproductive health services that should be made available to women.
The Vatican has charged that the draft plan promotes abortion and encourages sex outside of marriage by proposing that birth control be made more easily available. In an effort to scuttle adoption of the plan, the Vatican has dispatched diplomats to several Islamic countries, including Iran and Libya, in search of allies.
Gore, who is chairman of the U.S. delegation to the conference, acknowledged that differences in the American and Vatican positions on abortion rights probably cannot be resolved.
But he cautioned that “we are in danger of losing the remarkable agreement” if the Vatican and its Islamic allies seek to block adoption of the plan because of their opposition to abortion under any circumstances.
Appealing to the Vatican’s commitment to essential parts of the draft agreement, Gore called for conciliation, not confrontation in Cairo. “It is essential,” he said, “that the partial agreement that may be within reach not be thwarted by misunderstanding.”
Gore also denied repeated criticisms that the United States has sought to dictate population policies to other countries by making aid conditional on acceptance of family planning programs.
Calling the charge “outrageous,” Gore said that the United States strongly supports the right of other nations to set their own abortion policies. He noted that 173 nations permit abortion under some circumstances.
An estimated 25 million abortions are performed annually worldwide. In many countries where contraceptives are not widely available, woman may undergo the procedure seven or eight times.