Philippines House passes reproductive health bill
December 18, 2012 -- Updated 0058 GMT (0858 HKT)
Members of the Philippines House of Representatives are shown in Quezon City, in suburban Manila, earlier this year.
- "Historic vote today for women and families," a presidential spokesman says
- The bill provides sex education classes and government-funded contraception
- The Catholic Church opposes the bill, which has widespread public support
- It is "a sad day for the country," a Catholic bishop says
(CNN) -- Lawmakers on Monday approved legislation calling for government-funded contraception and sex education classes in the Philippines, a first in the heavily Catholic nation.
"Our legislature took an historic vote today for women and families as it successfully passed the Reproductive Health Bill. We thank our senators and congressmen who voted for access to information and care," said presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda.
A reconciliation committee must now work out differences in the versions of the legislation passed by each house before it is sent to President Benigno Aquino, who is expected to sign it.
Legislative leaders hope to finish their work and send the bill to Aquino by Wednesday before going on Christmas break, the official Philippines News Agency reported.
Despite widespread popular support, the Catholic Church has opposed the measure, saying it will destroy marriage and morality in the Philippines.
More than 80% of the Philippines' 96 million residents are Catholic.
Gabriel Reyes, bishop of the diocese of Antiopolo and chairman of the Episcopal Commission on Family and Life, said the passage of the bill marked "a sad day for the country."
But Lacierda said the legislation will help the country's citizens to raise families in a "just and empowered" way.
"The passage of the Responsible Parenthood Bill signals not only a new chapter in our agenda of inclusive growth; it also begins a process of healing for the wounds that may have been opened by an often feisty democracy," he noted.
Sen. Edgardo Angara, who voted for the measure, called the bill "an affirmation of human rights," according to CNN affiliate ABS-CBN.
"We have to consider that not all Filipinos are Catholics. We have Muslims, Protestants, Buddhists, nonbelievers," he said, according to ABS-CBN.
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