The bill promotes contraceptive use in a poor country with one of Asia's fastest-growing populations. The House of Representatives plans to decide Tuesday whether to end debate on the bill and put it to a vote, reigniting acrimony over an issue that has divided Asia's largest Roman Catholic nation for years.
Catholic bishops led a rally on Saturday by thousands of followers urging the bill's rejection and attacking President Benigno Aquino III for supporting it. An archbishop, Socrates Villegas, urged Aquino to focus on his promise to eradicate corruption and poverty and not promote "a culture of contraception" that "looks at babies as reasons for poverty ... a mistake and not a blessing."
The bill's supporters plan to hold their own rally Monday outside Congress.
Aquino's camp said Sunday he would not back off from supporting the Reproductive Health bill, which he promoted in his state of the nation address in Congress last month.
The United Nations said in a statement issued in Manila on Sunday that the bill, which aims to promote responsible parenthood and teach reproductive health in schools, would help reduce an alarming number of pregnancy-related deaths, prevent life-threatening abortions and
"As in many other countries where similar policies have been introduced, enacting a law that would address the reproductive health needs of the Filipino people would, over time, vastly improve health and quality of life and support development," the U.N. said.
Countering a church argument that contraceptives foster abortions, which are outlawed in the Philippines, the U.N. said that by preventing unintended pregnancies, "a reproductive health law would help prevent recourse to life-threatening abortions."
It said the country's rapid population expansion could prevent millions of Filipinos from being lifted out of poverty, adding that "hopes of future prosperity could turn to dust" if the Philippines is unable to deal with the issue.
The bill pending in Congress would require the government to provide information on family planning methods, make contraceptives like condoms available free of charge to poor couples and introduce reproductive health and sexuality classes in schools. It would encourage families to limit their children to two.
Filipino church officials have blocked the passage of birth control legislation in past years, arguing that contraceptives are as sinful as abortions. Proponents of the bill want more openness toward birth control to prevent disease and reduce population growth.
Aquino, still popular after his 2010 landslide election victory, has backed birth control even if it means going against the dominant Catholic church. He said last year he was ready to face the consequences and risk excommunication if necessary.