Known for its respect for civil liberties, Costa Rica is however being sued for failing to lift a ban on in-vitro fertilization (IVF), as it remains the only country in the Americas to prohibit IVF.
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights said on Monday it will take Costa Rica to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights for not legalizing IVF after the commission twice extended its previous deadline for the country to do so.
In-vitro fertilization was banned in Costa Rica in 2000 under pressure from the Catholic Church. Some couples have taken their cases to the Inter-American Court, which is based in Washington, and 50 couples have joined to file the petition.
President Laura Chinchilla has made efforts to prevent the case from reaching the court, but she was met with sluggish action on the part of Costa Rican lawmakers.
The country's new foreign minister, Enrique Castillo, told La Nacion newspaper that he believes "the prestige of Costa Rica will not be affected by the case, because everyone knows that assisted fertilization is controversial."
A new bill that would have lifted the ban was killed by lawmakers on June 14 because some evangelical officials oppose IVF while others said the bill was too conservative and did not protect the women's rights.
Miguel Yamuni and his wife Ileana Henchoz are two complainants in the case, and they said they brought the case to an international level because "locally the doors are closed at all courts."
"There were women who because of the delay that occurred in this process definitely lost the ability to reproduce and for them the damage has been very costly. There were other couples who went to Panama (to undergo IVF) and had the possibility of having a child," said a lawyer for several of the couples, Gerardo Trejos.
A doctor who performs IVF in Costa Rica can face criminal charges because in 2000 the Constitutional Court established that fertilized embryos, even before implantation, should be considered people and cannot be discarded.
IVF requires that many eggs be fertilized and then the most viable embryos are selected and frozen. The rest are often donated or discarded.
In June the Roman Catholic Church launched a media campaign to denounce IVF as "homicide," but the government ordered the campaign to be halted.