Following the birth of their first child, the applicants, Costa and Pavan, discovered that they were carriers of cystic fibrosis, a genetic disease. Their child was born with the disease. A prenatal test confirmed that their second child was also affected by cystic fibrosis. They decided to terminate the pregnancy on medical grounds.

The applicants sought to take advantage of Assisted Reproduction Technology (ART) and preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) for the purposes of selecting an embryo unaffected by the disease. However, under Italian law, they did not have access to these techniques. ART was available only to sterile or infertile couples, as well as to couples in which the man suffers from a sexually transmissible viral disease that could be contracted by the woman or the fetus. There was a blanket ban on PGD.

The applicants argued that not having access to these techniques violated their right to respect for their private and family life (Article 8) and freedom from discrimination (Article 14) protected under the European Convention on Human Rights.