Wed, 24 Aug 1994

UN prepares for abortion debate at Cairo meet

JAKARTA (JP): The topic of abortion is likely to be a contentious one at the international conference on population and development in Cairo next month, a UN representative said yesterday.

Ali Ugur Tuncer, the resident director of the UN Population Fund, stressed however that the seminar will treat the question of abortion strictly as a health issue and not a family planning matter as many have suggested.

"Abortion is not contraception. However, it is a reality and a fact -- whether it is conducted legally or not -- and for this reason it should therefore be discussed," Tuncer said during a seminar on "The Road to Cairo -- Population, Sustained Economic Growth and Sustainable Development" organized by the local UN Information Center.

The Cairo conference, scheduled for Sept. 5-13, will be attended by a number of world leaders. President Soeharto has been invited to address the gathering on behalf of the Non- Aligned Movement.

Tuncer said that although the UN intends to discuss abortion strictly as a health issue, some institutions have tried to capitalize on it and "make the issue bigger than it actually is."

More than 15,000 abortions take place each year in the world and 25 to 30 percent result in the mother's death, he said.

Illegal abortions, if carried out, often take the form of unhygienic and unsafe practices, which in turn can result in very serious health problems, he added.

Abdullah Cholil, Chairman of the National Committee for the International Conference on Population and Development, agreed that the abortion debate has shifted to the question of the rights of the mother and is no longer about contraception.

In the run up to Cairo, the world body and the government of Egypt have been criticized for including abortion and other controversial issues in the agenda.

Both the Roman Catholic Church and the oldest Moslem institution in the world, Al Azhar University in Cairo, on separate occasions expressed their dissatisfaction over issues such as abortion, women's rights, family structures -- including sexual rights and homosexuality -- and adolescent sexuality which are all incorporated in a UN document.

They condemned the document, saying that its language was ambiguous and tended to promote abortion and extramarital sex.


State Minister of Population and Chairman of the National Family Planning Board Haryono Suyono said those who oppose the inclusion of abortion in the agenda suggested that it should be handled by the World Health Organization and not by the UN's population agency.

"They are demanding that the issue be entirely removed from the conference's agenda," Haryono said.

He added that another group, however, insists that the issue of abortion should be discussed in all forums, whenever possible.

"In their opinion, the sooner the issue is discussed and a conclusion -- that abortion is not part of family planning -- is reached, the sooner we can get away from it once and for all and proceed with other matters," he said.

Haryono explained that although Indonesia has incorporated the issue of abortion in its health legislation and not in family development or population growth regulations, it has yet to specify the specific considerations in which abortions may be carried out.

"Women who want an abortion in some parts of the world actually have to walk and carry by themselves the 9.5 liters of water they need to have an abortion at clinics miles away from their homes," he said, adding that family planning is the best way to curb the suffering of such women.

Fifteen thousand participants from government delegations are expected to attend the conference while another 4,000 to 6,000 participants from non-governmental organizations will hold a simultaneous conference. (pwn)