Philippine lawmakers to push family planning bill

A group of Philippine lawmakers said Thursday it will try to pass a family planning bill with backing from the country's new president despite strong opposition from the Roman Catholic Church.

Members of the House of Representatives advocating family planning told reporters they will begin public hearings in two weeks on six versions of a proposed reproductive health law. They are aiming for a single comprehensive bill that will include family planning, improved maternal and child care, prevention of unsafe abortions, safeguarding of women's rights and poverty reduction.

Rep. Edcel Lagman, one of the bill's main proponents, said they will work to pass the measure before Congress adjourns next June.

He said opposition to the bill comes mainly from the church hierarchy, not from ordinary citizens in the predominantly Catholic nation.

Lagman said he is confident President Benigno Aquino III — who recently stirred debate over family planning by expressing support for the right to contraceptives — will back the bill.

Rep. Jose Maria Zubiri said the country's "overrapid and unsustainable population growth ... has already become a national security issue."

"Many of our problems in the Philippines stem from the fact that too many Filipinos make too many children that they cannot afford to take care of," he said. "The population growth of the last 30 years was faster than the economic growth that could support it."

The country's population, estimated at 94 million, is about double what it was 30 years ago. About 10 percent of Filipinos work abroad "not because they want to but because they have to," he added.

Lagman said about 100 of the 278 House members are co-authors of the various versions of the proposed law. He is confident the final version will get majority support when it is put to a vote.

Aquino's predecessor, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, opposed the bill during her nine-year administration.

Aquino, who took office four months ago, has met leaders of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines and explained to them that he supports responsible parenthood and does not back any particular birth control method.

Catholic church leaders oppose artificial contraceptives and say sex education, which is included in the proposals, is a parental responsibility.

Rep. Luz Ilagan of the women's party Gabriela said the proposed law will limit unsafe abortions by reducing unwanted pregnancies caused by a lack of knowledge of family planning methods.

An estimated 560,000 women in the Philippines in 2008 sought abortions involving crude and painful methods, according to a report released in August by the New York-based Center for Reproductive Rights.

About 90,000 women suffer from abortion complications and an estimated 1,000 die each year, the report said, adding that complications are among the top 10 reasons women seek hospital care.