Filipino women celebrate after hearing news that Philippine legislators passed a landmark law Aaron Favila/AP/Press Association Images

Philippines signs controversial new law easing access to contraception

Philippines legislators passed the landmark law providing government funding for contraceptives and sexuality classes, despite strong opposition from the dominant Roman Catholic Church.

THE PHILIPPINES HAS signed into law controversial new measures that will allow greater access to contraceptives and sexual education.

Philippines legislators passed the landmark law, which will provide government funding for contraceptives and sexuality classes, despite strong opposition from the dominant Roman Catholic Church and its followers. Church leaders have threatened a Supreme Court appeal in a bid to quash the legislation.

President Benigno Aquino III signed the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Act of 2012 on 21 December but his administration decided to announce the news today due to the “sensitivity” of the issue, a government spokesperson said. Bishops and their supporters had succeeded in blocking the bill for the past 14 years.

Bishops in the Philippines, which is 80 per cent Catholic, oppose the pill, condoms, IUDs and other forms of contraception – equating them with abortion – and have said access to such contraceptives will effectively condone promiscuity. The Church in the country supports only ‘natural’ methods of family planning – such as withdrawal or the rhythm method.

Access to birth control is a controversial issue in the country, which as the highest birthrate in Southeast Asia. The Los Angeles Times reports that about half all pregnancies are unintended and access to modern contraceptives is limited to those who can afford it.

However, women’s groups and other supporters have welcomed the new law.

Carlos Conde of Human Rights Watch said the Act “gives a clear mandate to the government to make reproductive health services readily available and, because of that, the law can save many lives.”

Conded added that the law “will advance human rights in the Philippines, particularly of women and mothers”.

Under the law, health workers will visit villages to provide family planning information and contraceptives – particularly to the poor, RTÉ reports.

Teachers will also be trained to give age-appropriate sexual health education to adolescents, which will include information on pregnancy, sexual abuse and violence, and women and children’s rights.

Read: Bishops say new bill is moving Philippines towards legal abortion

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