Philippine birth control fight not over: bishops

Philippine Catholic church leaders vowed Tuesday to overturn a birth control bill after lawmakers passed landmark legislation to make sex education and birth control more widely available.

The Senate and the House of Representatives approved the Reproductive Health (RH) Bill late Monday, putting it on course to be signed into law by President Benigno Aquino within a week, after its final wording has been decided.

Church leaders, however, pledged to continue their fight against the controversial bill, with an appeal to the Supreme Court and a campaign to oust its supporters in May's general election.

Bishop Gabriel Reyes said a group of Catholic lawyers was preparing to challenge the legality of the bill in the Supreme Court as soon as it is signed into law.

"We will support that petition... in the Supreme Court against the RH bill," said Reyes, head of the commission on family issues for the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines (CBCP).

He added that the Catholic church would also continue to urge the nation of 100 million people -- 80 percent of whom are Catholic -- to ignore the provisions of the bill once it passes into law.

"We will tell Catholics 'even if you are given free contraceptives, do not use them'," he told reporters.

Reyes said Tuesday that it would be left up to each individual bishop to decide whether to urge their dioceses to vote against legislators who supported the bill.

He laid the blame for the bill's passage at the feet of President Benigno Aquino, who he accused of using pressure and government funds to get the necessary votes in parliament.

"The struggle between the pro-RH and the anti-RH... was really the struggle of Malacanang (the presidential palace)," he said, warning that Aquino could become a "threat to democracy" with his domination of Congress.

CBCP secretary-general Monsignor Joselito Asis said that the RH bill was a "watershed" and would be followed by bills for the legalisation of divorce, abortion, same-sex marriage and euthanasia.

He stressed that if that were the case the church would fight against those laws too.

The church had effectively blocked the passage of birth control legislation for over a decade, cowing legislators and presidents by mounting huge protests and threatening to turn the public against them.

However the two houses of Congress, with the support of the Aquino administration, voted in favour of the bill after months of bitter debate, during which time some churchmen even threatened to have Aquino excommunicated.

Proponents of the bill said it was necessary to bring down maternal death rates, which are among the highest in the region, help poor women avoid getting pregnant and even slow the spread of sexually transmitted diseases.

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