SAN JOSE, Costa Rica (AP) -- The Inter-American Court of Human Rights has struck down a Costa Rican ban on in-vitro fertilization, saying that its guarantee of protection for every fertilized embryo violated the reproductive freedom of infertile couples.
Reproductive rights groups said the decision late Thursday could have far-ranging implications for laws in many Latin American countries that ban all forms of abortion and some types of contraception. The decision explicitly states that not all embryos and fetuses are guaranteed complete protection, which the groups say will let them challenge laws that ban measures such as emergency contraception and abortion in cases of rape and danger to the mother's health.
The Costa Rican government said it will comply with the court's decision and move to allow in-vitro fertilization.
The procedure was introduced to Costa Rica in 1996 by a doctor who helped couples give birth to 15 babies over four years. However, it provoked strong opposition from conservative groups and the Roman Catholic Church in Costa Rica, which campaigned against the technique because it led to the disposal of fertilized eggs, which opponents saw as tantamount to murder.
In 2001, 18 people brought a complaint before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights after Costa Rica became the only Latin American country to bar in-vitro fertilization because the government said it violated the constitution's guarantee of protection of human life.
Costa Rican couples with enough money traveled to clinics in Panama, where hundreds of Costa Rican babies were born as a result of the technique. One of the arguments the plaintiffs made before the Inter-American commission was that the ban was a form of discrimination against poorer families.
The human-rights commission ruled against Costa Rica and in 2010, after the failure of a congressional reform, the Inter-American Court on Human Rights took up the case, hearing testimony from both sides before issuing its binding ruling.
Alejandra Cardenas, a lawyer for the U.S.-based Center for Reproductive Rights, which filed briefs in the case, said the ruling would provide a basis for women's rights groups to challenge other countries' total bans on abortion and day-after contraception, because Costa Rica's position was based partly on the assertion that the regional American Convention on Human Rights requires the protection of life from the moment of conception.
Other countries make the same assertion in defending their bans on abortion and some types of contraception, Cardenas said. The ruling could weaken the legal basis of bans such as the total prohibition of abortion in El Salvador, Honduras, the Dominican Republic and Chile, she said.
"It will have a huge impact and that's why this decision is so important," she said.