BY LUKE COPPEN
PRO-LIFE groups have reacted angrily to reports that Clare Short intends to use this week's Earth Summit in South Africa to campaign for universal access to abortion and contraception.
A Sunday newspaper claimed that Ms Short, secretary of state for international development, was planning to push for an agreement guaranteeing the "reproductive rights" of the world's women.
The move is likely to be resisted by the representatives of Catholic and Islamic countries, who threw out a proposal enshrining such "rights" at a preparatory conference in Bali earlier this year. Ms Short is also reportedly facing opposition within her own delegation over the proposal, since rein troducing the issue at the summit would divert discussion away from environmental problems and lessen the chances of a final agreement.
Peter Smith, who is representing the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children (SPUC) at the 10-day Johannesburg summit, said that the British government's "proabortion policy" appeared to know no bounds.
He said: "Abortion is not a human right but an outdated and unnecessary procedure which is destructive of both children and society as a whole."
He added: "Clare Short still seems stuck in the late Sixties with the myth that population control equals less poverty."
Scott Weinberg, of the USbased Population Research Institute, said: "Clare Short has an agenda: to expand abortion worldwide at the expense of basic health and rights, even as women and children die by tens of thousands each day.
"She does not represent the people of the world or their needs, nor the hardworking people of England, who would defend the rights of the people of the world at the drop of a hat and press her costly agenda towards its ultimate extinction."
If Clare Short does push the issues of abortion and contraception onto the agenda, the Earth Summit could become a replay of the 1994 Cairo World Conference on Population and Development, which saw an attempt to define a legally enforceable universal human right to abortion on demand.
The attempt, which was supported by the United States government and the United
Nations Fund for Population Activities, was defeated by an alliance of developing countries after a campaign by Pope John Paul II. The Pope wrote to ever), head of state in the world arguing that a universal "right" to abortion would be "a serious setback for humanity".
But the Pope did not appear to anticipate another confrontation over abortion when he looked forward to this week's summit on Sunday afternoon. Speaking before the recitation of the Angelus, he said he hoped the delegates would "succeed in finding effective ways for an integral human development, keeping in mind the economic, social and environmental dimension" of life.
A spokesman for the Department for International Development was unavailable for comment.