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THE RETREATS:

Many observers lamented the role that the Vatican played at this PrepCom in mobilizing as many sympathetic States against: voluntary choice in family planning; sexual and reproductive health and rights; safe motherhood; access to safe abortion; the use of condoms to prevent the spread of AIDS; and sexual and reproductive health services for adolescents. The Vatican's position was unequivocal: opposition to every means of family planning other than periodic abstinence. As a result of their high-profile lobbying and systematic opposition, the PrepCom was forced to focus a disproportionate amount of its attention to these issues, much to the detriment of other equally important issues, including stronger language on reproductive and sexual rights, international migration, consumption patterns, accountability and follow-up mechanisms. Indeed, some have commented that the Programme of Action could have emerged a stronger document still, had more time been devoted to these other substantive issues, instead of debating abortion issues.

Others felt outrage at the Vatican and its allies, including Guatemala, Ecuador, Argentina, Malta and Honduras, who insisted on mounting religious and morally dogmatic arguments in the face of undisputed facts: over 400,000 women each year die from complications of unsafe abortion; and 800,000 cases of medical complications from unsafe abortions annually occur in Latin America alone. Brazil noted that over 25% of pregnancies in Latin America end in abortion each year. Despite the fact that abortion is illegal in most Latin American countries, there is actually agreement at the regional level (Mexico Consensus) that unsafe abortions represent a serious public health issue. Notwithstanding, Vatican pressure at the PrepCom led some Latin American countries to renege on this agreement.

At the end of the day, the clear and emerging consensus among delegates on the need for a reproductive and sexual health approach to issues of fertility and procreation was temporarily scuttled by the Vatican and a handful of countries haggling over definitions of these terms and the validity of the World Health Organization's definition. Thus, negotiations began to "grind down" around "condoms," the "individual," "family planning," and "fertility regulation." Indeed, the Holy See forced the lowest common denominator on these issues, in the face of the fact that well over 170 delegations might have agreed with more progressive recommendations.

As with every other post-UNCED negotiating process, the question of financial resources stimulated protracted and difficult debate at PrepCom III. It is currently estimated that more than a two-fold increase in family planning and population expenditures (including expanded packages of reproductive health, STD prevention and safer maternal care) are needed by the year 2000. More than three times that will be needed by 2015. Going beyond these goals to provide universal school enrollment and child survival strategies and programmes would potentially increase expenditures by US$75 million.

The current approach is that developing countries should incur two-thirds of their national population costs, with the additional one-third to come from other bilateral and multilateral channels. Instead of the international community increasing overall population assistance, developing countries are being asked to prioritize national-level spending to accommodate costs that would otherwise be covered by greater assistance from the international community.

For most developing countries, each post-UNCED negotiating process has placed "new and additional burdens" on the South to "reorder their spending priorities" to make up for the fact that few developed countries are anywhere close to meeting ODA commitments. Many developing countries questioned how they should be expected to reorder priorities when faced with such dire economic situations back home. [Return to start of article]