Philippine lawmakers passed a controversial birth control bill on Thursday, a landmark move against the strong lobby of the Catholic church.

After a lengthy debate, the five-hour vote concluded with 113 votes to approve the measures while 104 congressmen voted against, with 3 abstentions, that will pave the way for sex education in schools and the provision of free contraceptives, local media reports.

“Let us have children by choice, not by chance,” Edcel Lagman, a lawmaker who initiated the legislation, said after voting on the bill.

The reproductive health bill was met with strong opposition from the Catholic church, which said that the bill encourages abortion, sexual promiscuity and immorality.

President Benigno Aquino, along with women’s groups and the United Nations, pushed for the law in the hope that it would help reduce poverty and the high maternal mortality rate.

Mr. Aquino stressed that while he was for “responsible parenthood”, he would leave it to legislators to vote on the bill based on their conscience, AFP reports.

The proposed legislation would come into force once both houses of parliament agree on a common version that would be signed into law by the Mr. Aquino.