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World leaders are preparing for the U.N. conference on population in Cairo this September, mindful of President Clinton’s reversal of the 1984 Reagan/Bush ban on foreign aid for family planning. But the Vatican is warning that outside family planning services will lead to Westernization–a message tailored to fundamentalist Islamic leaders, whose allegiance with Catholic countries helped defeat a section in the 1992 Earth Summit document that promoted family planning (“Still Ticking,” March/April 1993). Vatican envoy Monsignor Diarmuid Martin told Arab delegations last spring that he supported their wish to “respond to the challenges of the modern world in a way which does not damage what is precious in those traditions” important to Arab culture, including “the special role of women.” Then, two months later, delegates from Morocco and Iraq expressed concern that the Cairo conference will conflict with their cultural traditions. Population and reproductive rights organizations retorted that “culture and tradition” do not justify practices that jeopardize women’s health and freedom. But the Vatican seems to be winning its campaign. As one member of the U.S. delegation puts it, “A hierarchy of celibate men will control the rest of the world’s access to birth control.”

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