AP 13 Sep 94 16:33 EDT V0299 1994. The Associated Press

CAIRO, Egypt (AP) -- Negotiating like a country but voting like a religion, the Vatican managed to chip away at abortion language at the U.N. population conference.

But it failed to block worldwide recognition that abortion is a fact of life that governments must deal with as an issue of public health.

That was a setback to the Holy See and to Pope John Paul II, who has been leading a single-minded moral crusade against abortion.

The Vatican also suffered damage on the diplomatic stage. It infuriated many diplomats and U.N. officials with its vigorous fight in conference rooms to keep more liberal abortion language out of the 20-year plan to curb population growth.

And it was forced on the defensive for allying itself with extremist governments like those of Libya and Iran. In the end, those countries and nearly a dozen other Muslim nations objected in Tuesday's final session to specific points in sections on reproductive rights.

The Vatican also got limited support from 10 Latin American countries, including Argentina, Peru and Ecuador. They withheld agreement on phrases in the reproductive rights section but accepted the abortion passage. Brazil, the world's largest Roman Catholic country, did not side with the Vatican.

Yet in eight grueling days of bargaining here, the Vatican and its Catholic allies won numerous battles, including:

--Recognition that parents should be involved in teen sex counseling.

--The elimination of "pregnancy termination" from the definition of reproductive health care.

--The deletion of the phrase "sexual rights."

--Two mentions that abortion should not be promoted as a method of family planning. --Language that family and reproductive health matters should conform to local laws, cultures, ethics and religion.

The Vatican didn't even fight a call for access to contraception and the distribution of condoms to fight AIDS, knowing it could not win on that front. But it refused to endorse that language and said the Church's moral objection to both issues remained unchanged.

The key paragraph on abortion calls for governments to deal with "unsafe abortion as a major public health concern." The Vatican feels such phrasing could legitimize abortion and neglects the "safety" of the fetus.

"We toned down that paragraph," said the Holy See's leading negotiator, the Rev. Diarmuid Martin. "It's very negative on abortion," he said.

The Vatican also objected to the establishing of a woman's right to "regulation of fertility," saying that could include abortion.

The only major reference to abortion in the last U.N. population document from 1984 ruled out abortion promotion as family planning.

"By 1994, the world itself had gotten caught up in the abortion debate to a much greater extent," said Vatican delegate James McHugh, a U.S. bishop. "This conference could not have been held without reference to abortion."

From the beginning, the Vatican sought to dilute the language as much as possible at the bargaining table, knowing that in the end it would not go along with the reproductive health sections on moral grounds, said Moorthy Kanchi, Caribbean director for the U.N. Population Fund.

That refusal to budge could make life difficult for the Vatican in the future, observers said.

"There is a feeling that the Vatican's influence might gradually decline" in the diplomatic realm because of the ill will it created in the international community, Kanchi said.

But Vatican officials vowed to maintain a strident voice in world affairs.

"We do not feel marginalized, isolated or rejected," McHugh said. "We are a church. But we believe we can expect to put forward a moral teaching."