On Thursday, the Philippine House of Representatives passed the second reading of a controversial bill known as the Reproductive Health Bill (RH Bill) which would provide contraception to poor citizens free of charge, despite pressure from the Roman Catholic church. The RH Bill requires that the government provide contraceptives to the poor free of charge as well as provide information in schools on family planning and reproductive and sexual health.

In a vote of 113 in favor of the bill and 104 against, the RH Bill passed the second reading aloud in Congress. Before it can become law, the bill must pass a third reading no earlier than Monday and be signed by President Benigno Aquino III. A version of the RH Bill is also in the Senate for a second reading. The RH Bill has been stuck in the Philippine Congress for almost 15 years.

The biggest opposition to the bill has come from the Catholic Church, which has a strong base in the country. While voting was taking place, many Catholic bishops were seated in the gallery, while priests and nuns prayed outside the building.

Magdalena Lopez, Director of International Programs at Catholic for Choice, issued a statement on the decision: “Today is a victory for those in the Philippines who want to save lives and improve families’ well-being, an achievement that could not have come about without the pro-RH champions in Congress and the advocates who fought for it over a decade. …Today is also a defeat-for the bishops and their myopic point of view, which tries to override individual conscience and the rights of the women who have no means to decide whether or when to have children, and whose health and lives may be at risk without contraception.”

Media Resources: The Inquirer 12/13/12; Catholics for Choice Press Release 12/12/12; Wall Street Journal 12/12/12

Birth control pills and pen closeup from Shutterstock

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