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Top Philippine court hits pause on divisive contraception law

By Jethro Mullen, CNN
March 20, 2013 -- Updated 0533 GMT (1333 HKT)
Mothers wait for family planning services at the Likhaan Center for Women's Health in Baseco, a slum in Manila, on January 16.
Mothers wait for family planning services at the Likhaan Center for Women's Health in Baseco, a slum in Manila, on January 16.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Philippine lawmakers approved the reproductive health bill late last year
  • But the Supreme Court delays its implementation to hear petitions against it
  • Catholic bishops in the country welcome the decision

(CNN) -- The Philippine Supreme Court postponed the introduction of a controversial law that aims to provide government-funded contraception and sex education classes in the mainly Catholic country.

The Southeast Asian nation's top court issued an order on Tuesday delaying the implementation of the law for 120 days while it waits to hear arguments from several petitions against the new measures, the official Philippines News Agency (PNA) reported.

Lawmakers approved the legislation, named the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Act, in December after years of campaigning by public health and women's rights activists.

President Benigno Aquino III signed it into law the same month, with his office saying it had closed a divisive chapter in the nation's history.

But the Supreme Court decision has reopened the contentious topic, raising the hopes of leaders of the Catholic Church in the Philippines who oppose the measures.

"For me it's a good sign, a victory" for those who are against the law, said Bishop Arturo Bastes of Sorsogon, according to PNA.

He said he believed that Pope Francis, who was officially inaugurated on Tuesday, would be happy to hear of the delay.

Despite widespread support for the new measures in the Philippines, the Catholic Church lobbied against the legislation, saying it would undermine marriage and morality. More than 80% of the Philippines' 96 million citizens are Catholic.

One of the petitions submitted to the court against the law argues that "the State cannot, as a general principle, routinely invade the privacy of married couples in the exercise of their most intimate rights and duties to their respective spouses," according to PNA.

But supporters of the legislation, like Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago, say it is necessary to help people in the Philippines "escape the vicious cycle of poverty by giving them options on how to manage their sexual lives, plan their families and control their procreative activities."

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