San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Costa Rica Congress shelves bill to legalize in vitro fertilization

In a narrow vote Tuesday, Costa Rica’s Congress voted to shelve a bill that would have reversed a decade-old ban on in vitro fertilization, a measure proposed by the government of President Laura Chinchilla and recommended by the Inter-American Human Rights Commission (IACHR).

In vitro fertilization (IVF) was outlawed in Costa Rica in 2000 under pressure from the Roman Catholic Church, exposing doctors who perform the procedure to criminal prosecution.

Lawmakers voted 26 to 25 against lifting the ban, with more than half the members of Chinchilla’s party in Congress breaking ranks to oppose the measure.

The ban has been upheld in a constitutional court ruling, which found that embryos fertilized outside the womb should be considered persons and cannot be discarded.

The IVF procedure involves removing several eggs from a woman’s body, fertilizing them, then them implanting one or more of the most viable embryos in the mother’s womb.

The remaining embryos are either frozen for use in a future pregnancy attempt or discarded.

Four years after the ban was initially passed, the U.S.-based Center for Reproductive Rights petitioned the IACHR to accept a case on behalf of two Tico couples unable to conceive a child. The commission ruled in favor of the couples and wrote a report in August 2010 asking the Costa Rican government to legalize the procedure. The IACHR then extended deadlines to change the law four times, with the final extension set to expire July 31. Lawmakers are not expected to recall the bill for further discussion before the final deadline expires.

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