“Beautiful Sin” Doc Shows What Happens with an IVF Ban

Beautiful Sin doc on IVF ban

Nobody should tell a woman when, why, where, or how to be a mother. This should not be a controversial statement and the fact that in the year 2024, it is the cause of political, social, and moral debates baffles me. We have learned nothing and it breaks my heart. It is time to reevaluate our society with the help of documentaries like Beautiful Sin if we still somehow think it is okay that one person’s (or a few people in power’s) beliefs can dictate how millions of people in a country live their lives and start their families. An abortion and IVF ban should be a thing of the past, not recent breaking news.

While my heart mourns for the women in the US who now have to fight twice as hard to become mothers on their own terms, I know there is hope. History has taught me that much. Back in the year 2000, Costa Rica – a country known for having a deep respect for human rights – became the first country in the world to ban in-vitro fertilization using a similar argument to the one used by Alabama lawmakers: embryos are human children and IVF is murder (it is as ridiculous now as it was 24 years ago). The ban came as a surprise to many, given that Costa Rican doctors were able to carry out IVF in a way that was mindful of sensitivities around the embryos created during the procedure – they were only allowed to fertilize a small number of eggs and all fertilized eggs had to be implanted into the mother. No embryos could be frozen for later use or discarded during the process.

According to Costa Rican filmmaker and journalist, Gabriela Quirós who was one of the many reporters to cover the news of the country’s first “test-tube baby,” Estéban back in 1995, Costa Rica has always been an intensely religious country, heavily influenced by the Catholic church. As soon as she heard about the ban, Quirós, who was based in San Francisco, CA at the time, felt the need to fly back home “like one runs back into a burning building.”

Back in her native country, she started working on her first feature-length documentary, Beautiful Sin, which was released 15 years later in 2015. The film explores the complex struggle between religion, politics, and fertility (or rather, infertility in some cases) over 10 or so years in Costa Rica. It follows the stories of three couples who, for various reasons, were struggling to conceive and who were heavily affected by their government’s total ban on IVF.

María and Carlos wanted to have children of their own. Although María had children from a previous marriage, she found out that, after delivering her second child, doctors at the Miami hospital where she had been a patient had sterilized her against her will and knowledge. The IVF ban fell into place right as she was about to begin treatment. They’d already gone into considerable debt to buy the expensive drugs and hormones required for the process, which ended up going to waste after the ban made it impossible to go ahead with their plans. Ultimately, their inability to have children of their own created an irreparable rift in their marriage. While they remained married, they now lead separate lives. Carlos treats María’s grandchildren as his own but wants nothing to do with her.

Grethel and Miguel were a young couple whose only shot at having biological children was IVF, given that Miguel was left sterile following an accident in his youth. After years of waiting and hoping things would change, the emotional toll was too much. They divorced. Years later Grethel remarried and now has children from her second marriage.

Andrea and Alberto are the third couple the documentary follows. They were lucky enough to have the financial means to be able to fly back and forth between Costa Rica and Colombia, where IVF was still legal and accessible. They were able to carry out their fertility process there, resulting in a triplet pregnancy for Andrea. Sadly, a month before her due date, one of the triplets died in utero.

Because of the unimaginable financial and emotional distress that the ban caused, as well as it clearly violating their human rights, many Costa Rican families took their government to court over the IVF ban. It took nearly a decade of back-and-forth trips to Washington, DC, where the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights is based (most of that period was spent without any news or update on the matter – to the point where the lawyer representing the Costa Rican families thought he’d die without seeing the end of this process himself), for the Commission to issue a recommendation that the Costa Rican government should legalize IVF anew.

Two different administrations dragged their feet on the matter, and in 2012, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, whose decisions are legally binding, ruled that Costa Rica should legalize IVF. By the time the documentary was released in 2015, however, IVF was still not legal. Eventually, the prohibition was lifted and the first post-ban IVF baby was born in March 2017.

Yes, the ban was eventually lifted (as I said, there is hope for the US!) but not before costing countless women their shot at motherhood on their terms (or at motherhood at all). The lives of so many families across Costa Rica were profoundly affected by religious fanatics in positions of power who were unable to understand that their religious beliefs are not universal and should not rule the lives of others. Make no mistake, these bans are not meant to protect innocent, unborn children, as lawmakers like to claim. They are meant to control women and to use the very thing we’re trained since childhood to desperately want (because of course, as little girls we’re taught that our only acceptable role in society is being a mother – the toys, books, TV shows, and clothes marketed towards little girls all point in the same direction) against us. We cannot allow this. We are the only ones who can decide when and if motherhood is a good fit for us as well as how we get there. Otherwise, we end up with tragedies like those in Beautiful Sin.

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