Philippine court upholds contraceptive law as constitutional

Reuters
An NGO health worker holds contraceptive pills during a family planning session with housewives availing free pills in Tondo, Manila
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An NGO health worker holds contraceptive pills during a family planning session with housewives availing …

MANILA (Reuters) - The Philippines Supreme Court on Tuesday upheld a family planning law but ruled out provisions to punish health workers who do not inform people about contraceptive options.

In a country where more than 80 percent of a population of about 97 million is Roman Catholic, the Church had opposed the law, effectively blocking its passage for 13 years, for fear it would lead to a spike in abortions.

The Philippines has one of the highest birth rates in Asia, standing at 24.98 per 1,000 of population in 2012.

Congress passed the reproductive health law in December 2012, allowing public health centers to hand out contraceptives, such as condoms and pills, and teach sex education in schools.

"The reproductive health law is not unconstitutional," Supreme Court spokesman Theodore Te told a jubilant crowd at the tribunal's compound in Baguio City, a mountain resort where the justices are holding their summer session.

Te said the court declared at least eight provisions of the law to be unconstitutional, including one intended to punish reproductive health providers who failed, or refused, to spread information about the law's services and programs.

Opponents of the law get 15 days to appeal, Te added.

"The Supreme Court decision is a victory for the Filipino people," said Kaka Bag-ao, a left-wing lawmaker and principal sponsor of the law.

"It is incomplete, but it is a historic victory nonetheless. For as long as the state is still mandated to implement a reproductive health program, we still won."

Philippine church officials said they were saddened by the decision.

"The Church must continue to uphold the sacredness of human life, to teach always the dignity of the human person and to safeguard the life of every human person from conception to natural death," Bishop Socrates Villegas, head of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines, said in a statement.

"I encourage our Catholic faithful to maintain respect and esteem for the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court has decided on the reproductive health issue based on existing laws."

(Reporting by Manuel Mogato; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

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