Philippine president's fight against church over contraceptives

Anti-abortion sign

Twenty-six years after Roman Catholic leaders helped his mother marshal millions of Filipinos in an uprising that ousted a dictator, President Benigno Aquino III picked a fight with the church over contraceptives and won a victory that bared the bishops' worst nightmare: They no longer sway the masses.

Aquino last month signed the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Act of 2012 quietly and without customary handshakes and photographs to avoid controversy. The law that provides state funding for contraceptives for the poor pitted the dominant Catholic Church in an epic battle against the popular Aquino and his followers.

A couple with links to the church filed a motion on Wednesday to stop implementation of the law, and more petitions are expected. Still, there is no denying that Aquino's approval of the legislation has chipped away at the clout the church has held over Filipinos, and marked the passing of an era in which it was taboo to defy the church and priests.

Catholic leaders consider the law an attack on the church's core values – the sanctity of life – saying that contraceptives promote promiscuity and destroy life. Aquino and his allies see the legislation as a way to address how the poor – roughly a third of the country's 94 million people – manage the number of children they have and provide for them. Nearly half of all pregnancies in the Philippines are unwanted, according to the UN Population Fund, and a third of those end up aborted in a country where abortion remains illegal.

Rampant poverty, overcrowded slums, and rising homelessness and crime are main concerns that neither the church nor Aquino's predecessors have successfully tackled.

"If the church can provide milk, diapers and rice, then go ahead, let's make more babies,'' said Giselle Labadan, a 30-year-old roadside vendor. "But there are just too many people now, too many homeless people, and the church doesn't help to feed them.''

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