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U.N. Drafters Resolve Disputes, Complete New Population Plan

By Kim Murphy
Los Angeles Times
CAIRO, Egypt

Finally clearing nagging disputes over reproductive health, birth control and migrant workers, U.N. drafters Monday completed an ambitious new population plan that U.N. officials say has allowed the world for the first time to deal frankly with sex and spiraling human reproduction.

The plan, scheduled for adoption Tuesday by nearly 180 nations gathered for the International Conference on Population and Development, contains important compromises with both Roman Catholic and Islamic nations aimed at assuring that sex education, reproductive health care and family planning programs comply with each nation's own religious and cultural traditions.

It emphasizes that abortion is not encouraged as a family planning tool and leaves that contentious issue up to each nation's own legislation.

U.N. officials said the action finally agreed on by the conference drafting committee after an exhausting series of meetings represents the world's first attempt to deal openly with the root causes of soaring fertility rates, and to develop programs that emphasize not government coercion but individual choice.

"The number of completely new notions compared to what has come out before - of reproductive health, reproductive rights, the notion of unsafe abortion being a major health problem which governments have to do something about - all these things are there," said Nicolaas Biegman of the Netherlands delegation, who vice-chaired the drafting committee.

"Sex, something that we only whispered about before, is a normal item of conversation in the Western world now, and it's becoming a normal item of conversation in the rest of the world," Biegman said. "You have to talk about sex - you have to talk about it just like real estate prices."

The diplomacy over the past week has very much reflected the growing influence of religion in political life. Religious to a great extent framed the debate over issues such as abortion, family planning and sex education, in an attempt to ensure that traditional family values would not be lost in the rush to provide new sexual health care options.