Court Rules Against Costa Rica's Protection of Life from Conception
Friday, December 21, 2012

The Inter American Court of Human Rights (IACtHR) has quietly released a

controversial holding in a case that centered on Costa Rica's protection of human life from the moment of conception and its ban on in vitro fertilization (IVF). The Court ruled in The Case of Artavia Murillo & Others v. Costa Rica (IVF Case) that the Costa Rican government violated the American Convention on Human Rights when it prohibited the practice of IVF within its borders.


The Inter American Court held in its decision, currently available only in Spanish, that the Costa Rican IVF ban violated the rights to privacy, family life, personal integrity, the "right to sexual health," as well as the right to enjoy the benefits of scientific and technological progress and the principle of non-discrimination referencing Arts. 1, 5.1, 7, 11.2, 17.2 of the American Convention.   


The Court's instructions to the government of Costa Rica included the need to authorize and regulate IVF and subsidize IVF services through its social security system. It was ordered to pay up to $25,000 in compensation to infertile couples who had to travel abroad for IVF treatment and provide them with free psychological assistance.   


The IVF Case commenced in 2000, after the Costa Rican Supreme Court found the practice of IVF to be unconstitutional as it violated the right to life of the unborn due to the destruction of newly created lives considered to be "spare embryos". The high court relied on the protection of the right to life of the embryo in Article 21 of the Costa Rican national constitution and Article 4.1 of the American Convention of Human Rights which states: Every person has the right to have his life respected. This right shall be protected by law and, in general, from the moment of conception. No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his life.


Article 4.1 of the American Convention has been long understood by signatories to explicitly protect the right to life of the unborn, but the Court undercut this protection with its decision in this case, interpreting "conception" as "implantation," and finding that the embryo cannot be granted the status of "person," since he or she cannot enjoy other rights numerous contained in the American Convention. The right to life is relegated to a secondary position. According to legal expert, Piero Tozzi of the Alliance Defending Freedom, "A preliminary reading of the ruling indicates that the Court elevated secondary rights-such as the right to privacy, a right to personal autonomy, and a right to sexual and reproductive health-above the right to life, which by necessity takes precedence over all the other rights."  


The Inter American Court relied on interpretations of international treaties in much the same manner as do radical activists and those promoting the abortion agenda. In contrast,dissenting Judge Eduardo Vio Grossi writes that the Court may have gone too far in its interpretation of "conception" and that this should be a matter for individual states to decide. In his dissent on Article 4.1 of the Convention, he expresses his concern that interpretations used by the Court do not follow the recognized rules of interpretation enshrined in the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties and ignores the ordinary meaning of the treaty terms, as recognized by countries and understood in the context and purpose of the Convention.  


The dissenting opinion concludes that Article 4.1 reflects the States Parties' agreement to protect unborn life and warns against the Court's reliance upon other systems and interpretations of international agreements that do not provide the same protections for the unborn as contained in the American Convention.


Pro-life organizations Alliance Defending Freedom, the Centre for Legal Study at C-Fam and Americans United for Life, had submitted an amici curiae brief.


PNCI notes that this case is a flagrant violation of Costa Rica's sovereignty and yet another example of the re-interpretation of treaties to remove legal protection for the most vulnerable of human beings. The case will continue to attract attention in the coming weeks, months, and years as case's significance for Costa Rica and the Inter-American system and the protection of the life from the first moment of existence will emerge.