MANILA, Philippines - The Philippines moved closer to a controversial birth control law Thursday as lawmakers passed a version of the bill after a long debate over an issue that has deeply polarized the largely Catholic nation.
The bill paving the way for sex education in schools and the provision of free contraceptives in a country with one of Asia's fastest-growing populations was passed by the lower house of parliament after a five-hour vote.
"Let us have children by choice, not by chance," Edcel Lagman, a lawmaker who initiated the legislation, said after voting on the bill that passed with a narrow majority just before dawn.
His comment reflects the view of President Benigno Aquino who is pushing for the law that he hopes would help bring down poverty in a nation of nearly 100 million people as well as the high maternal mortality rate.
The move is supported by women's groups and the United Nations but is vehemently opposed by the politically influential Catholic church, which is against the use of contraceptives, including condoms and birth control pills.
The proposed legislation would come into force after both houses of parliament agree on a common version that would be signed into law by the president.
Aquino had urged legislators at a recent meeting to help get the law passed after more than a year of bitter debates on the issue.
But he stressed that while he was for "responsible parenthood", he would leave it to the legislators to vote on the measure based on their conscience.