Pictured: Maternity unit, Philippines-style as Church takes on government over contraception

With babies lying seven to a cot and exhausted mothers struggling to find space to sleep, maternity wards in Manila would seem to be more than a little overcrowded.

This picture is a stark illustration of why the battle between Church and state over contraception provision in the staunchly Roman Catholic nation of the Philippines is so bitter.

Without an effective birth control policy, the country, already the world's 12th most populous with 90million people, is projected to surpass 140million by 2040.

The crowded maternity ward at the Manila hospital

No effective birth control policy: The crowded maternity ward at the Manila hospital

This will put a huge strain on its health system, schools and other services, and its ability to feed itself.

While a relatively small middle class can afford to buy their own contraceptives, millions of poor women cannot. A month's supply of the pill costs around half the average daily salary of almost half the population.

A family planning Bill, due before the country's parliament this month, that would force the government to promote contraception, is backed as a solution by many, but the Church advocates abstinence to control population.

Enlarge   Babies lined up on a bed inside the ward. Now the church is petitioning to block a family planning bill

Babies lined up on a bed inside the ward. Now the church is petitioning to block a family planning bill

Some bishops have said they will refuse communion to politicians who support the Bill. Others warn that the Church's crucial backing in the 2010 presidential and congressional elections will be withheld.

'I have never seen the bishops so aggressive in a campaign to block a piece of social legislation as in this case against the reproductive health care bill,' said Aries Rufo, a journalist who has been covering church issues for more than a decade.

'In the last six attempts to legislate a population policy, a bill never gets out of the committee level in the lower house. It is only now that the chance of passing a law on family planning is really high.'

The bill was approved by the House Committee on Health last month, setting the stage for a test of strength with the church, which has played a key role in the ouster of two presidents in the past three decades and blocked legislation on divorce, abortion and family planning.

Currently the government leaves family planning issues to local governments and few of them promote artificial contraception.

The church advocates abstinence to control population.

No comments have so far been submitted. Why not be the first to send us your thoughts, or debate this issue live on our message boards.

We are no longer accepting comments on this article.

Who is this week's top commenter? Find out now