The UN population conference in Cairo was scheduled to take a vote on abortion on 9 September after failing to reach an early consensus because of opposition by the Vatican. Muslim states that had objected to the original draft but attended the conference agreed a compromise on the second day of the gathering.

Delegates from more than 150 countries put aside discussions on abortion on 7 September to talk about reproductive rights and family planning. The abortion issue was referred to a small working group; the results were to be looked at on 9 September and either adopted or rejected without discussion.

The draft compromise rejects abortion as a means of family planning, urges countries to tackle the threat to women’s health of unsafe abortions, and reduce their recourse to abortion by improving family planning. Prevention of unwanted pregnancies must be given the highest priority and women should have ready access to compassionate counselling, the draft says.

Almost all countries agreed the compromise. Iran called it a ‘perfect text’. There was widespread frustration with the Vatican’s continued opposition, with the US and UK delegates leading the criticism of the Catholic stance. Egypt’s Population Minister Maher Mahran joined in by accusing the Vatican of trying to dictate its views to the world.

However, in an apparent bid to placate domestic opposition, Egypt made a pitch for writing ‘normal sex’ into the draft declaration and proposed amendments to deny ‘sexual and reproductive rights’ to adolescents and single people.