A Costa Rican ban on in-vitro fertilization has been struck down by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in a decision that reproductive health groups said could lead to greater access to abortion and some contraception in other Latin American countries.
The court said in a ruling on December 20 that a long-standing Costa Rican guarantee of protection for every human embryo violated the reproductive freedom of infertile couples because it prohibited them from using in-vitro fertilization, which often involves the disposal of embryos not implanted in a patient's uterus.
The court said that governments cannot give embryos and fetuses absolute protection under the American Convention on Human Rights. The Costa Rican government said it will comply with the court's decision and move to allow in-vitro fertilization.
The advocacy groups said they believed they now would be able to successfully challenge bans such as the total prohibition of abortion in El Salvador, Honduras, the Dominican Republic and Chile, which are based in part on the assertion of total protection of life for embryos and fetuses.
"This is a wonderful day for reproductive rights," said Alejandra Cardenas, a lawyer for the U.S.-based Center for Reproductive Rights, which filed briefs in the case.
Oriester Rojas said he was forced to travel outside Costa Rica with his wife to get in-vitro treatment and told reporters, "I hope that from now on everyone who's been affected by this can have the opportunity to turn their dreams of being fathers and mothers into reality."
Advocacy groups said most important was language about a guarantee of the right to life included in the American Convention on Human Rights, a binding treaty ratified by most countries in the Western Hemisphere and overseen by the Costa Rica-based rights court.
The article declares that the right to life "shall be protected by law and, in general, from the moment of conception."
The six-judge panel said in its ruling that "it is possible to conclude from the words 'in general' that the law's protection of life under said provision is not absolute, but rather gradual and incremental according to the development of life."
Cardenas said that a new case challenging, for example, a total ban on abortion would have to follow the standard that protections for fetuses are not absolute.