In a case that could undermine women’s access to reproductive technologies, contraception and abortion across North, Central and South America— including the United States— the Center for Reproductive Rights today joined a legal battle against Costa Rica’s in-vitro fertilization ban. Ten Costa Rican couples submitted a complaint with the Washington, DC-based Inter-American Commission on Human Rights last January. And this morning, the Center filed an amicus brief, arguing that the ban violates the couples’ rights to have children and develop their own families under international human rights law.
Costa Rica’s Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court outlawed in-vitro fertilization in 2000. The Court held that human life begins at conception, and from that point on is entitled to the protection of the law. According to five of the seven justices, IVF places human life at too great a risk because some of the embryos will perish.
Depending on the Inter-American Commission’s final decision, governments and courts across North and South America could cite its ruling, as well as that of the Costa Rican Supreme Court, in developing and interpreting their countries’ laws on reproductive technologies, contraception and abortion.
Since Costa Rica implemented the in-vitro ban, the Instituto Costarricense de Infertilidad (Costa Rican Infertility Institute), the only clinic to provide the treatments, and the ten infertile couples have organized to fight the decision. The couples meet regularly to educate themselves on IVF and international and Costa Rican law, preparing for battle in the anticipated Inter-American system.
While the couples’ group has provided the families with a support system, they say the last four years have been difficult emotionally. Some couples have separated under the stress. Other couples are now unable to have children, even if IVF is made legal, because the women have reached the end of their childbearing years. Still others are coming to terms with the reality that the same thing may happen to them.
"I’m coming to an age when it’s more difficult to have in vitro. So I realize that we may not have children. But I have to go on living and I will continue to fight this ban," said Ana Cristina Castillo, a 39-year-old patient at Instituto Costarricense de Infertilidad.
Castillo and her husband have been trying to have children for eight years. She suffers from endometriosis damage and her husband has a low sperm count. After three years of unsuccessfully trying hormones, surgery and insemination, the couple started in vitro just months before the practice was outlawed.
"When I first heard about the ban I was angry. The Court does not have the right to decide such intimate family matters. I was also extremely sad because I had always dreamed of having my own children. Then I became frustrated because the ban meant that there was nothing I could do to make that happen," said Ana Victoria Sanchez, a patient who decided to turn to IVF shortly before Costa Rica outlawed the practice. She and her husband ended up adopting. They love their two adopted boys, but hope they can still try and have children through in vitro.
"How can a government in good conscience prevent a family from having their own biological children? This was a cruel and punishing move by the Costa Rican court," said Luisa Cabal, Deputy Director of the International Legal Program at the Center for Reproductive Rights. "All governments have a duty to protect their citizens and to not hinder their guaranteed access to rights."
The Inter-American Commission next meets in March 2005. Once the panel reviews the petition, its members will either issue a final report presenting its conclusions and recommendations to Costa Rica or refer the case to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.