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    Philippines OKs divisive contraceptives bill

    MANILA — Philippine legislators passed a landmark bill Monday that would provide government funding for contraceptives and sexuality classes in schools despite strong opposition by the dominant Roman Catholic Church and its followers, some of whom threatened to ask the Supreme Court to block the legislation.

    The Senate and the House of Representatives passed different versions of the bill, which languished in Congress for more than a decade as legislators avoided colliding with the influential church. The two versions will have to be reconciled before President Benigno Aquino III has an opportunity to sign the legislation.

    In a scene considered unusual just a few years ago, lawmakers openly defied the church’s stand during the plenary voting, which was shown live on nationwide TV.

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    ‘‘The Catholic church has steadfastly opposed the [reproductive health] bill for 13 years,’’ said Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago, a key proponent. ‘‘But I humbly submit this afternoon that there is no force more powerful than an idea whose time has come.’’

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    Aquino, who certified the bill as urgent, considers it a major step toward reducing maternal deaths and promoting family planning in the impoverished country, which has one of Asia’s fastest-growing populations. Church leaders said in a pastoral letter Sunday that if passed, the bill would put the moral fiber of the nation at risk.

    Archbishop Socrates Villegas, vice president of the Philippines’ Bishops Conference, said that ‘‘the wide and free accessibility of contraceptives will result in the destruction of family life.’’

    Associated Press