AP 9 Sep 94 17:15 EDT V0247 1994. The Associated Press

CAIRO, Egypt (AP) -- The U.N. population conference finally reached a compromise on abortion Friday, but could not persuade the Vatican to go along.

Vatican delegates, outspoken in their opposition to previous proposals, held their peace when a committee adopted a paragraph on unsafe abortions and the mother's health. That still left open the possibility -- though unlikely -- that the Holy See would join the majority.

The text is now almost certain to be adopted by the vast majority of countries when the report is brought before the full conference for approval.

The U.N. Conference on Population and Development is drawing up a 20-year Program of Action for slowing the world's population growth. But for a few paragraphs here and there, the 113-page final draft is complete. The remaining paragraphs deal with divisive issues such as teen-age sex and contraception. Work on them has been delayed because of the abortion issue, which the Vatican and some Roman Catholic countries have kept in the forefront during the first five days of the nine-day meeting.

Currently world population is growing by an additional 90 million people a year. The draft sets target spending at $17 billion a year worldwide by 2000 for basic health care for women and children, family planning and AIDS prevention. That's projected to rise to nearly $22 billion a year by 2015.

Delegates stood to express their acceptance of the compromise language on abortion at a meeting of the committee drafting the text.

Vatican delegate Rev. Diarmuid Martin told the committee that the Holy See would pronounce judgment on the text when the whole plan of action was approved.

The Vatican position "constitutes a substantial but not complete identification" with the paragraph, Martin said.

The paragraph refers to places where "abortion is not against the law." Since the Vatican won't endorse any text that even implies abortion could be legal, it is unlikely it will accept the paragraph in the end.

Martin said the Vatican endorsed treating unsafe abortions as a public health issue, providing good care for abortion complications and counselling for women with unwanted pregnancies, and language affirming abortion is not a method of family planning.

The paragraph also places priority on making family planning services available and says women with unwanted pregnancies must be treated compassionately, not punitively.

Siding with the Vatican were Argentina, Peru, Ecuador and Malta - - all predominantly Roman Catholic countries.

Martin added that Holy See was also dropping its objections to the words "family planning" throughout the document, which it felt could be interpreted to include abortion. The compromise text on abortion ruled that out.

The decision to allow "family planning" was a "sharp turnaround" for the Holy See at the conference, papal spokesman Joaquin Navarro told reporters. Timothy Wirth, a U.S. undersecretary of state and chief of the U.S. delegation here, called the Vatican's stance "very benign."

Dr. Allan Rosenfield, president of the American Public Health Association and a Vatican critic, said the Holy See was "less vitriolic ... than at other times."

However, Navarro said the church's prohibition of artificial contraception would not change. "The moral ground on this issue remains the same," he said.

Debate also bogged down Friday on the definition of reproductive health and reproductive rights. A special committee is working on that section, which in a draft calls for the "right of couples and individuals to make decisions concerning reproduction free of discrimination, coercion and violence."

Some Islamic countries sought to strike "individuals," saying it violated Islamic principles. Pakistan said the language could create a "wave of dissent" at home, reflecting criticism by conservative Muslims of what they perceive as the draft's promotion of promiscuity and immorality.

Martin said the definition of reproductive health could "suggest the possible right to abortions, or be misconstrued as such." The ambiguity should be removed, he said.

Nicolaas Biegman, the Dutch diplomat who chairs the sessions, said the reproductive rights of individuals have been recognized since the 1974 population conference and that the issue should not be touched.

Delegates also were debating whether immigrants have a "right" to be united with their families. Wealthy countries who receive emigrants say a universal right would undermine their efforts to control immigration.

The final document will not be legally binding, but it is a declaration of what most governments feel on population and development issues. Implementing the recommendations is up to each of the 182 participants.