An Indiana teacher was fired from a Roman Catholic school after undergoing in vitro fertilization, which the Church strictly shuns, according to the Associated Press. The 31-year-old former educator, Emily Herx, is filing a lawsuit claiming that her termination last June was a result of discrimination. The case could spark serious legal controversy over reproductive rights and religious rights.
Herx is taking legal action against the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend and St. Vincent de Paul school in Fort Wayne for her firing, the AP reports. The Hoagland, Ind. resident said that the church pastor called her a grave, immoral sinner.
In vitro fertilization is the process by which egg and sperm are manually combined in a laboratory dish, according to the American Pregnancy Association. When successful, the procedure results in a process known as an embryo transfer. This involves physically placing the newly created embryo in the uterus. The Roman Catholic Church prohibits this practice because it can sometimes result in the destruction of an embryo, which is against Church morals.
To have a child by in vitro almost invariably results in the death of a number of embryos as one works to bring one to term, Dr. John Haas, director of the National Catholic Bioethics Center in Philadelphia said to the AP.
Herx reportedly signed a contract in which she agreed to respect the Catholic faith, ABC News reported. But legal experts have told the AP that Herx's case exemplifies a gray area in the debate over the separation of Church and state that even the Supreme Court struggles to address. In January the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that religious workers are not allowed to sue their employers for job discrimination because anti-discrimination laws provide a ministerial exception. The problem, however, is that the justices never made clear who was and wasn't a religious employee.
Herx's attorney, Kathleen Delaney, indicated that Herx should not fall under that category.
She was not a religion teacher, she said to the AP. She was not ordained. She was not required to and didn't have any religion teaching. She wasn't even instructed about the doctrine that she violated.
Herx told the school that she was undergoing IVF treatment, when she used sick days for the procedure, the lawsuit said. The document continued to say that the school didn't indicate this was a problem until later.
ABC News referred to Herx's case as one couple's fight for a family. The news source also reported that Herx began in vitro treatment about a year before she was fired with her boss' blessing.
It's a fight teacher Emily Herx and her husband Brian never thought they'd be battling. The right to have a family, ABC's news coverage reports.
They fired her for wanting what probably everybody in their congregation has, one Indiana local said to ABC on the issue. A family.
Herx's lawsuit, filed on April 20th in the U.S. District Court in Fort Wayne, alleges the diocese violated the Civil Rights Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act by discriminating against Herx based on gender and infertility, the AP writes. In January, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission supported Herx's complaint.