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By Carol J. Williams, Los Angeles Times

The Philippine Supreme Court on Tuesday upheld a law guaranteeing access to birth control and sex education in a country that has high maternal mortality and ranks 53rd worldwide in total fertility rate.

Implementation of the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Act, also known as the RH Law, had been on hold for the last year after challenges to it by the Roman Catholic Church and conservative politicians who questioned the law’s constitutionality.

“The court unanimously held that the RH Law is not unconstitutional,” high court spokesman Theodore Te told reporters in Baguio, where the ruling was issued.

The law requires government health centers to make contraceptives available free to any women requesting them and mandates age-appropriate sex education in public schools, according to an article in the Philippine Star. The Philippines has one of the lowest rates of health care spending in the world.

United Nations Population Fund officials hailed the ruling as a boost for the world body’s goal of halving maternal mortality as part of its Millennium Development Goals. More than 3.4 million pregnancies occur in the Philippines each year, half of them unintended, the U.N. agency says. Women die in childbirth or shortly afterward at a rate of 99 per 100,000 live births, it calculates.

The CIA World Factbook ranks the Philippines 159th in the world in health care spending, with only 4.1 percent of GDP devoted to public health.

The reproductive law bans the use of abortion drugs but requires public health professionals to provide care for women suffering post-abortion complications that arise from illegal terminations.

There was no immediate response by the Catholic Church hierarchy in the Philippines. The church, which counts more than 80 percent of the nation’s 108 million population as members, led street protests denouncing the law as evil after President Benigno Aquino III signed the legislation in December 2012. At one point in its opposition campaign, the ABS-CBN network reported, the church threatened Aquino with excommunication.

Women’s rights groups celebrated the court ruling, saying the law would be a powerful tool in fighting poverty and cutting the birthrate of 3.54, one of the highest in the world, the broadcaster said.

Shameless Magazine via Flickr.com birth control

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