ADF International


Murillo v. Costa Rica

Date of most recent action: 28 Nov 2012

Inter-American Court places right to private life and ‘reproductive autonomy’ above the right to life

What’s at Stake

The right to life from the moment of conception to natural death


In March 2000, the Supreme Court of Costa Rica made a landmark pro-life decision. It decided that because the process of in vitro fertilization (IVF) destroys so many human embryos, it undermines the life and dignity of the human being. As a result, the court judged that the country’s rules on IVF were unconstitutional. By banning IVF, the court protected life from the moment of conception, but sadly, this protection only lasted little more than a decade.

A number of citizens brought a complaint against Costa Rica to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. The complaint asserted their ‘rights’ over and above the rights of human embryos. They alleged that the decision to ban IVF violated their right to private life and personal integrity, their right to ‘reproductive health services’, and the right to raise a family.

In July 2011 the commission held that Costa Rica had violated various rights under the American Convention on Human Rights. The case then progressed to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACtHR). ADF International presented the court with legal arguments that supported Costa Rica’s pro-life laws and defended the right to life from the moment of conception.

The American Convention on Human Rights explicitly protects life from the moment of conception. Yet despite this fact, the (IACtHR) decided that the Supreme Court of Costa Rica’s ban on IVF violated the convention. This effectively meant that the right to ‘reproductive freedom’ outweighed the most basic right of all–the right to life.

Even more disturbingly, the court took it upon itself to decide the moment at which life begins. The court distinguished between the stages of fertilization and implantation, and judged that it is the implantation of the embryo in the womb that marks the beginning of life. It used this false distinction to decide that the destruction of embryos before implantation did not undermine the right to life.

The IACtHR’s decision to overturn the Supreme Court of Costa Rica’s decision leaves human embryos unprotected once again. ADF International continues to work with local allies to defend life from the moment of conception and resist the IACtHR’s false interpretation of when life begins.

Our Role in the Case

ADF International presented the Inter-American Court with legal arguments that defended the right to life from the moment of conception.

Legal Documents

Decision – 28 Nov 2012

Brief: English – 07 May 2012

Brief: Spanish – 07 May 2012

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Faith-based legal advocacy organization that protects fundamental freedoms and promotes the inherent dignity of all people.