Brazil's government is cutting the price of birth control pills to less than 25 cents for a month's supply so poor women can afford the contraceptive.

The move comes just two weeks after a visit by Pope Benedict XVI, who used his time in the mainly Roman Catholic country to condemn abortion, contraception and sex outside marriage.

On the eve ofthe Pope'sarrival, President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva issued a statement saying he opposes abortion personally but he views it as a public health issue.

Brazil already gives out millions of condoms, especially just before the annual Carnival celebrations, to prevent the spread of AIDS.

On Monday, Lula announced the new program to give masses of poor Brazilians access to birth control pills that better-off citizens take for granted.

"It gives them the same right that the wealthy have to plan the number of children they want," Lula told about 150 doctors and women's rights advocates Monday.

Brazil already hands out free birth-control pills at government-run pharmacies. But many poor people in Latin America's largest country don't go to those pharmacies, so Lula's administration decided to offer the pills at drastically reduced prices at private drugstores, said Health Minister José Gomes Temporão.

Dulce Xavier, a Catholic who runs a group advocating for women's reproductive rights, says Brazilians simply aren't listening to the Vatican.

"There is total disobedience to church doctrine on sexual reproduction," she says. "The majority of Catholics here use condoms, take the pill and support limited access to abortion."

According to the government's own estimates as many as one million women a year are having abortions in Brazil, even though they're illegal, except for cases of rape or where a mother's life is in danger.

About 4,000 women die from the procedures annually, making it the fourth-leading cause of maternal death in Brazil after hypertension, hemorrhages and infections.

Lula said shortly before the Pope's visit that abortion should be considered as a public-health issue, and Temporão said he wants a national referendum on the issue.

Temporão also said the government plans to increase the number of free vasectomies performed at state hospitals.

With files from the Associated Press