The Philippine Catholic church on Friday led tens of thousands of Filipinos in one of the biggest rallies against a proposed family planning law, saying it will promote artificial contraception and lead to more abortions.
Police said about 40,000 people gathered at Manila's Rizal Park for the prayer rally led by Manila Archbishop Gaudencio Rosales.
The proposed law would require the government to provide information on family planning methods, make contraceptives available, and hold reproductive health and sexuality classes from grade 5 through high school. It would also raise AIDS awareness and help couples determine the right number of children and birth spacing.
Church officials have blocked passage of family planning laws in the past, saying they would erode moral values and encourage promiscuity and early pregnancies.
"Being married is holy, and intimacy is holy because this will create new life that is a gift from God," Rosales said. "Sex is not a game that should be taught to children along with the use of condoms supposedly to avoid disease."
He said Filipinos should strengthen the values of sacrifice and discipline.
"If a person is disciplined, he will have discipline in bed and if he has discipline in bed, he will have discipline in the streets, and if he has discipline in the streets, he will have discipline with his wallet," he said.
The bill for "responsible parenthood, reproductive health and population and development" is in the final stages before a vote in the House of Representatives. A separate version is being debated in the Senate.
One of its opponents is Philippine boxing star and congressman Manny Pacquiao, who says he never would have been born and become an international champion if his parents practiced birth control.
Rep. Edcel Lagman, one of the bill's main proponents, says the opposition mainly comes from the church hierarchy, not from ordinary citizens of the predominantly Roman Catholic nation.
Supporters say the country's rapid population growth _ about 2.04 percent, the highest in Southeast Asia, according to the Population Commission _ must be slowed to reduce poverty.
The women's party Gabriela says the bill would limit unsafe abortions by reducing unwanted pregnancies caused by a lack of knowledge of family planning methods.
An estimated 560,000 women in the Philippines sought abortions in 2008 involving crude and painful methods, according to a report last August by the New York-based Center for Reproductive Rights.
About 90,000 women suffer from abortion complications and an estimated 1,000 die each year, it said, adding that complications are among the top 10 reasons women seek hospital care.