April 1, 1994

By Deborah Zabarenko

WASHINGTON - Battle lines are being drawn on the vast field of global population policy, with women's health advocates on one side and the pope and Muslim fundamentalists on the other. Both sides are heating up their rhetoric in the run-up to a United Nations conference on the topic that starts Monday.

"They really are on the rampage," said Adrienne Germain, a U.S. delegate to the conference, referring to the Vatican hierarchy, including Pope John Paul II.

The three-week conference at U.N. headquarters in New York aims to formulate a document setting out international policy on development and population through the year 2050. This document will be debated at a U.N. conference on population in Cairo in September.

Germain, who is affiliated with the International Women's Health Coalition, said the Vatican has been in contact with Moslem fundamentalist leaders to join forces against liberalization of contraception, abortion rights and other women's health issues to be discussed at the U.N.

"It's quite clear that the Vatican was aligned with Algeria and Libya," she said. "... Both groups would really prefer that women would stay home, barefoot and pregnant."

A pair of papal statements last month show the Catholic leadership is focusing on women's reproductive issues.

On March 24, Pope John Paul II said governments should pay women for doing housework and raising children, but added that they should not be forced to go out and earn money of their own to support their families.

The week before that, the pope met with Nafis Sadik, the head of the U.N. Population Fund, which is sponsoring the New York meeting.

According to a Vatican news release, the pontiff told her that international organizations like the U.N. should focus on economic development, rather than reproductive rights, if they want to make life better for the world's poor. It would be improper, he said, "to formulate population issues in terms of individual 'sexual and reproductive rights', or even in terms of 'women's rights."' [----------]