Philippine President Benigno Aquino III has signed a law that will promote contraception, sexual education and family planning programmes vigorously opposed by the Roman Catholic Church.

Though Mr. Aquino had signed the law on December 21, his administration announced it only on Saturday because of the “sensitivity” of the issue, said an official .

She said the passage “closes a highly divisive chapter of our history” and “opens the possibility of cooperation and reconciliation” among those who oppose and support the “Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Act of 2012”.

One of the most outspoken opponents of the legislation while it was still being debated in Congress, retired Archbishop Oscar Cruz, said Mr. Aquino is dividing the country while adopting a “first world country value system”. He warned that the law would be followed by the passage of a divorce bill and a same-sex marriage bill, both strongly opposed by the Church.

(Mr. Aquino was once threatened with excommunication by church leaders for pushing the bill, AFP reports.)

“My first objection there is why don’t you call a spade a spade? Why do you have to call it ‘reproductive health’? Come on. That is population-control legislation,” he said. “From the onset there is already deception.” The Aquino administration “should be commended for its political will to see this law through”, said Carlos Conde, Asia Researcher for the U.S.-based Human Rights Watch.

Human rights

Mr. Conde said the law “will advance human rights in the Philippines, particularly of women and mothers” and empower them to make their own decisions over their health and family life.

In about a dozen provisions, the 24-page law repeatedly reminds that abortion drugs are banned, but it requires health workers to provide care for those who have complications arising from illegal abortions.

Under the law, the government will hire more village health workers who will distribute contraceptives, especially to the poor, and provide instructions on natural family planning methods that the Church approves.

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