San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Lawmaker Justo Orozco: ‘We will respect court ruling’ on in vitro fertilization

The controversial evangelical legislator and president of the Legislative Assembly’s Human Rights Commission, Justo Orozco, said lawmakers would respect a ruling expected this week by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights on the country’s ban on in vitro fertilization.

Orozco is opposed to the medical procedure for religious reasons, but he told The Tico Times on Tuesday that, “we must respect the court’s ruling, whatever that may be.”

“We would have to make the changes required of us [if the court rules in favor of plaintiffs], and we would hope the central government has the same attitude. That’s the most coherent policy we can have,” Orozco said.

The San José-based court will decide the fate of Costa Rica’s ban on in vitro fertilization, enacted in March 2000 following a ruling by the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court, or Sala IV. The Sala IV ruled the procedure unconstitutional, saying it violated the right to life principal contained in Costa Rica’s Constitution. Costa Rica joined only Libya and the Vatican in banning the procedure.

Since the 2000 ruling, Costa Rican couples seeking IVF must travel abroad to countries like Spain, Panama and Colombia, where it is allowed. However, many couples cannot afford the high cost of traveling and treatment in other countries.

Following the Sala IV ruling, nine couples filed a case against Costa Rica in 2000 at the Washington, D.C.-based Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

“When we realized the Sala IV ruling was motivated by issues of religion and immorality, we knew we wouldn’t get anywhere in the local legal system. So, we decided to appeal to an international body that is above the Sala IV’s jurisdiction in this case,” plaintiff Miguel Antonio Yamuni said. Yamuni and his wife, Ileana Henchoz, are among the estimated 200,000 Costa Ricans affected to some degree by infertility. They began preparing for in vitro treatment in 1999, just months before the Sala IV ruling.

According to Boris Molina, an attorney representing 12 of the 18 plaintiffs in the case before the human rights court, some 15,000 Costa Ricans have not been able to access in vitro treatment abroad since 2000, due to the high costs involved.

The Inter-American Commission sided with the plaintiffs and ordered Costa Rica to legalize in vitro, setting a deadline for lawmakers to enact changes. Legislators, unable to reach an agreement, asked the commission for more time. A second deadline came and went without progress on a reform bill, and the case was sent to the human rights court, which heard arguments from both sides last September.

If the court rules that Costa Rica must legalize in vitro fertilization, lawmakers will be charged with passing legislation that not only allows the procedure, but also sets up a regulatory framework for how it will be implemented.

Orozco’s appointment as president of the commission last May caused a public outcry due to his extremist religious beliefs and inflammatory public comments on issues ranging from gay marriage to the role of women in the home. A campaign called “Fuera Justo Orozco” sought to oust him from the commission.

But Orozco said on Tuesday that, personal opinions aside, lawmakers would have to work together to implement the court’s decision, should it favor the plaintiffs.

“The fact that I’m against [in vitro fertilization] doesn’t mean I own the truth, or that I won’t respect the majority or a body like the Inter-American Court,” Orozco said. “My role as president of the legislative commission is to abide by the court’s ruling.”

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