Magazine article The Christian Century , Vol. 111, No. 25
The Holy See has challenged Vice-President Al Gore's recent denial that the U.S. is pushing for worldwide abortion rights at this month's population conference in Cairo. In an August 31 briefing with reporters, chief Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls said a draft document for Cairo contradicts Gore's claim that the U.S. is not trying to have abortion recognized as an international right at the meeting. "The draft document, which has the U.S. administration as its principal sponsor, contradicts, in reality, Mr. Gore's statement," Navarro-Valls said.
Speaking at the National Press Club in Washington on August 25, the vice-president told reporters: "The United States has not sought, does not seek, and will not seek to establish any international right to abortion." Gore is attending the opening session of the September 5-13 International Conference on Population and Development. About 170 nations are represented at the Cairo conference, although Saudi Arabia and a number of other Islamic nations have decided to boycott the meeting.
Navarro-Valls, who is a member of the Vatican delegation at the Cairo sessions, denied that the Holy See had actively sought the help of radical Islamic states, including Libya and Iran, to torpedo aspects of the document that the church sees as proabortion and antifamily. In the course of normal diplomatic activity in recent months, several countries have come close to the Vatican's position, he said. Maintaining that the Vatican never considered pulling out of Cairo in protest, Navarro-Valls said its 17-member delegation hopes to influence the meeting in such a way as to obtain a document to which all the delegations can agree. Pope John Paul II has made the Cairo conference a key part of his preaching this year, and the fact that Navarro-Valls is present at the meeting underscores the Vatican's desire to influence public opinion on the abortion and population issues.
The Holy See is worried about "ambiguity of language that runs through the whole document," Navarro-Valls said. In his view, the document's call for "the right to have access to methods of fertility regulation" is basically a call for abortion on demand. Adding that "sexual health" and "reproductive health" are also ambiguous terms in the church's opinion, Navarro-Valls insisted that the draft document will have to be discussed word by word. …