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ABORTION COMPROMISE HITS SNAG AT CONFERENCE

A group of countries joined the Vatican Wednesday in opposing a section on abortion in the U.N. population conference's 20-year plan for reining in world population growth.

The announcement upset a compromise reached late Tuesday that would retain a section recommending government policies on abortion but declare that it shouldn't be promoted as family planning.Iran, Pakistan and Benin, previously Vatican allies, agreed to support the compromise. And the European Union, Norway and Sweden accepted the changes in the conference's central document as their "rock bottom" position.

But when talks resumed Wednesday morning, delegates said eight countries - all with Roman Catholic majorities - announced support for the Vatican position. They are Malta, Argentina, Guam, Honduras, Guatemala, Slovakia, Uruguay and Ecuador.

The section under debate - one paragraph in a 113-page plan - deals with unsafe abortion and motherhood. The compromise would have retained sections urging governments to treat unsafe abortion as a major public health concern.

It would acknowledge the legality of abortion in some countries and say women who have abortions should have access to treatment for medical complications, counseling and family planning to avoid repeat abortions.

Namibian delegate Henning Melber said Wednesday as many as 20 countries now oppose that language.

"There is absolutely no progress on the matter," he said. "For those who came to a consensus, this is very frustrating."

Unable to reach consensus, the negotiators broke up into informal groups to discuss the next step.

The conference's plan of action does not require the blanket approval of all participants. But great effort is being made to reach compromise because the United Nations likes consensus when issuing long-term goals.

Mary Ellen Glynn, spokeswoman for the U.S. delegation, said 95 percent of those at the conference support the compromise and it was unfortunate that a few were delaying progress on more important population issues.

"We don't want this conference to be on abortion,and stringing it out does just that," she said.

Melber said Namibia and many other countries were losing patience with the upending of a compromise that had been very difficult to reach.

"How long will they be able to compromise, compromise, compromise?" he asked.

The Vatican and Muslim nations have objected to parts of the plan on abortion or sex education. Other nations have complained that arguments over morality were taking attention from the real purpose of the conference - slowing the population explosion by giving power to women.

In a key concession to the Vatican, the compromise on the abortion provision restored language from the 1984 population conference that abortion should never "be promoted as a method of family planning."