Philippine lawmakers on Monday approved the controversial Reproductive Health bill on the third and final reading, a historic vote in Asia’s biggest Catholic-majority country. The bill was introduced more than a decade ago but is still not passed into law.

President Benigno Aquino, who has pushed for the bill as one of his priority measures, says he wants to sign the legislation before Congress adjourns this week for Christmas break.

The House of Representatives voted 133 to 79 in favor of the bill, with 7 abstentions, while the Senate passed its version of the measure with 13 votes to 8. Both chambers of Congress will now consolidate the two different versions in the bicameral conference committee after which the Senate and the House will need to ratify the consolidated version before Mr. Aquino can sign the bill into law.

Along with women’s groups and the United Nations, Mr. Aquino has pressed for contraception reforms to curb the high maternal mortality rate in the impoverished country where birth rates are among the highest in Asia. The law would provide government funding for contraceptives and sex education in schools.

The Catholic Church strongly lobbied against the bill which it claims would “put the moral fiber of the nation at risk”.

“The wide and free accessibility of contraceptives will result in the destruction of family life,” Archbishop Socrates Villegas, vice president of the Philippines’ Bishops Conference, told AP.

“Money for contraceptives can be better used for education and authentic health care,” he said, adding that “those who corrupt the minds of children will invoke divine wrath on themselves”.