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Philippines Reproductive Health Bill Moves Forward After 14 Years

Plan to provide contraceptives and sex ed draws controversy in Catholic archipelago.

After 14 years of debate, the Philippines' congress voted this week to move forward on a controversial health bill that would mandate sex education in schools and use government funds to subsidize the cost of contraceptives.

The Reproductive Health Bill calls for the Philippines' Department of Health to provide "medically safe, legal, accessible, affordable and effective reproductive health care services nationwide," as well as require "age-appropriate reproductive health and sexuality education" from the fifth grade through high school.

If final approval is given by the archipelago's House of Representatives, its Senate will need to give approval before the bill moves to the desk of President Benigno S. Aquino III.

The bill is highly debated within society. The Roman Catholic Church, the religion of 80 percent of Filipinos, has condemned the progress of the bill. Citizens remain divided on the issue.

Contraceptives are legal within the Philippines and can be purchased at private pharmacies. However, former Manila mayor Jose Atienza, backed by many Catholic priests, removed contraceptives from public clinics in 2000 in order to promote a "culture of life."

The Philippines, home to more than 96 million people, is projected to swell to 155 million by 2050 if current birth rates continue.

The World Health Organization has given the policy a "rare endorsement," noting the number of Filipino deaths due to complications related to pregnancy and childbirth increased 36 percent between 2006 and 2011.

CT's coverage of the Philippines can be found here.

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