The fight to legalize in vitro fertilization (IVF) in Costa Rica has this week faced new legal challenges.
IVF has been illegal for 15 years in Costa Rica, but last September, President Luis Guillermo Solís issued an executive decree to observe the Inter-American Court’s 2012 ruling that the ban be lifted.
An article by The Tico Times and AFP reports that on Wednesday (February 3), however, Costa Rica’s Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court – or Sala IV – struck down the decree.
The Constitutional Chamber has maintained that for a law legalizing and regulating IVF to be constitutional it must first be passed by the Legislative Assembly.
Religious and ethical concerns
Legislators supported by conservative religious organizations, who have long fought to keep the ban in place, filed a complaint to the Constitutional Chamber on September 21.
According to another article by The Tico Times, four lawmakers – Gonzalo Ramírez from the Costa Rican Renovation Party, Fabricio Alvarado from the National Restoration Party, Luis Vásquez of the Social Christian Unity Party, and Mario Redondo from the Christian Democratic Alliance – filed the complaint to challenge the decree’s constitutionality.
A few months later, in November, six plaintiffs – including the Doctors and Surgeons Association and the National Women’s Institute – called for the Constitutional Chamber to disregard the complaint.
This week’s ruling, however, has come as another blow to those who have been fighting for more than a decade to legalize IVF in Costa Rica.
IVF is a process in which fertilization occurs by combining an egg and sperm in a laboratory, and then transferring the embryo to the uterus.
“The right to form a family”
The Constitutional Chamber of Costa Rica’s Supreme Court banned the process in 2000. According to an article by IPS News, five of the seven magistrates in the Constitutional Chamber maintained that the law regulating IVF – which had been in effect since 1995 – contravened the right to life, considered to begin at the moment of conception.
In 2001, 12 couples lodged a petition with the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights (IACHR), and ten years later, in 2011, the case went to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.
Hubert May, a lawyer representing some of the couples who brought the case against the Costa Rican government, told IPS that the ban was “discriminatory”, affecting “those who couldn’t afford to carry out the procedure abroad, or those who weren’t willing to mortgage their homes or take out loans to fulfill their longing (for a child of their own).”
The Inter-American Court of Human Rights ruled in November 2012 that the prohibition of IVF in Costa Rica “violated the right to privacy, the right to liberty, the right to personal integrity, and the right to form a family, in conjunction with the right to be free from discrimination.”
The court determined that an embryo does not constitute a “person” and subsequently is not protected by the right to life provision under the American Convention of Human Rights (ACHR). It instructed Costa Rica to legalize IVF within six months.
According to an article in The Lancet, it is estimated that IVF could benefit some 15,000 people in Costa Rica.