24 Envtl. Pol'y & L. 309 (1994)

handle is hein.journals/envpola24 and id is 309 raw text is: 



ENV1RO~JNAENTAL PoLIcY AI'JD LAW, 24/6 (1994)                                                         309


International Conference on Population

                    and Development
                       by  Royce  A.Fincher*


    Held in Cairo from 5 to 13 September 1994  under
U.N. auspices, the International Conference on Popula-
tion and  Development  was  the latest in a series of
decennial conferences focused on population. It drew
significant media attention surrounding the issue of
abortion, but ultimately produced a document, its Pro-
gramme  of Action, which was unanimously joined in by
the 173 nations in attendance, albeit with some comments
and reservations. After refusing its consent to the princi-
ple document produced by the World Population Confer-
ence in Bucharest in 19742) and the International Confer-
ence on Population in Mexico  City in 1984,1) even the
Vatican saw  it politic in some way, to associate itself
with the consensus, even if in an incomplete or partial
manner,`' at this conference.

Religious Debate  Overcome
   The  leadership acknowledged tremendous forces of
entropy for which the media was probing constantly,'
but claimed the abortion debate useful in focusing world
attention on the issues, and the pulling together of the
nations of the world on what  were commonly   agreed
problems. The Conference  fell far short of creating the
general right to abortion sought by  certain Western
advocates - carefully avoiding creation of any new rights
at all, e.g. to family reunification of refugees. Still, it
recognised that abortion does exist, if only to stress
prevention of unwanted  pregnancies, and held out for
commitment   to reducing the health impact of unsafe
abortion,6') ready access to information and counselling of
women   who  have  unwanted  pregnancies, and family
planning to reduce recourse to abortion.'
   While  the Roman  Catholic Church, unique  among
religions by virtue of the Holy See's status as an observer
State in the United Nations, did not concede its position
against contraception, sterilisation or the use of condoms
in HIV/AIDS  prevention programmes,  it made its stand
not on these issues but on abortion. The Vatican did so
doubtlessly because of the clear consensus in the world
community  that the former are acceptable - because the
world community  is in agreement that there is a problem
with population.
   In contrast it might be said that the Vatican and
certain fundamentalist Protestant Christians, do not agree
that there is a problem sufficient to force re-examination
of their religious views, or to release consideration of the


* J.D. LL.M., M.A., is an attorney active in population and
environmental issues in California, USA.


moral  propriety of sexual practices to the individuals
involved. The Vatican attempted to tap Islamic concerns
with perceived sexual excesses in the West, particularly
regarding abortion. But while opposing abortion, Islam is
not trapped in such position by belief that life begins at
conception. Rather, it begins with quickening. Thus,
Islam permits abortion prior to quickening where recom-
mended  by physicians for the health of the mother.
   Moreover,  Islam is no help as  a doctrine against
contraception, however its fundamentalist factions might
aid the Vatican from a social perspective, for it is open to
family planning achieved by contraception. Family plan-
ning is a protection for a couple's sons and daughters, and
not contrary to Koranic verses. Religion should not even
attempt to structure rules or laws guiding spacing of
children because they would not be effective. Better to
teach the rules of the religion, leaving it to husband and
wife to apply that religion to decisions regarding spacing
of children for economic, psychological or social reasons
known  to and agreed upon by the couple alone.)

Salient Themes
   Conference supporters were largely successful in mov-
ing the debate on contraception from the moral arena to
that of public health. The spirit of the document that
emerged  was free choice, a reiteration of the theme that
such is a human right first asserted by, initially, twelve
heads of state more than 25 years ago.' Attempting to
avoid suggestion that any new right was being created by
referencing certain human rights that are already recog-
nised, the Programme  of Action reiterated the basic
right of all couples and individuals to decide freely and
responsibly the number,  spacing and timing of their
children and to have the information and means to do so,
adding the right to attain the highest standard of sexual
and reproductive health.o) Having defined reproductive
health to include sexual health for the enhancement of
life and personal relations, and not merely counselling
and care related to reproduction and sexually transmitted
diseases, the term was deleted in most places else-
where in the document as subsumed within reproductive
health. This avoidance of repeated reference to sexual
health made  more palatable reference to the rights of
couples and individuals, which some nations feared
sanctioned homosexual  rights.
   The focus was on a far more integrated approach than
had  previously prevailed. In 1974 at Bucharest, the
rallying cry was that development is the best contracep-
tive. In 1984 at Mexico City, making  contraception
available in the face of religious opposition and lack of


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ENVIRONMENTAL POLICY AND LAw, 24/6 (1994)


309

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