Ind. Teacher Sues Catholic School for In Vitro Fertilization Firing

Emily Herx, an Indiana school teacher who was fired from a Roman Catholic school for using in vitro fertilization (IVF) to try to get pregnant has filed a lawsuit against the institution, claiming she is being discriminated against.

The 31-year-old teacher was fired from the St. Vincent de Paul school in Fort Wayne last June, and told by a pastor that she was a "grave, immoral sinner," after it was discovered that she had gone through with IVF treatment due to infertility problems. Herx, who is married, claims the school principal was aware of her treatment and no one had told her it was a problem, leaving her "shocked" when she was told she would be fired for breaching the Catholic ethics code, The Associated Press reported.

All forms of artificial contraception and artificial insemination are banned by the Roman Catholic Church, and employees of Catholic schools, including teachers, are often expected to serve as Christian role models by upholding such values. Late last year, Cincinnati technology teacher Christa Dias also filed a lawsuit after being fired from her position at Holy Family and St. Lawrence schools in East Price Hill when it was discovered she had used IVF to get pregnant.

Herx, whose treatment was unsuccessful, says she has had exemplary performance reviews in her eight years as a language arts teacher at St. Vincent de Paul, and should not have been fired. She has also pointed out that the Catholic Church looks down on other practices widely accepted in American society and in which many Christians partake, such as using condoms as contraceptives, divorcing, or living with an unmarried partner. Stopping short of giving specific names, Herx suggested that she believes other employees at St. Vincent de Paul have also committed such offenses, but have not been disciplined.

The Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend has defended its decision to fire the teacher and objected to the lawsuit, saying that it "challenges its rights as a religious institution to make religious based decisions consistent with its religious standards on an impartial basis."

"The Catholic Church has a deep pastoral concern for husbands and wives struggling with infertility. The Church promotes treatment of infertility through means that respect the right to life, the unity of marriage, and procreation brought about as the fruit of the conjugal act," it explained in a statement published by The Journal Gazette.

"There are other infertility treatments, such as in vitro fertilization, which are not morally licit according to Catholic teaching. The Church teaches that every individual embryo has the right to life," it continued.

Experts claim that U.S. law prohibits religious employees from filing job discrimination lawsuits because anti-discrimination laws allow for a "ministerial exception." The Supreme Court, however, has failed to identify whether teachers qualify as religious employees or not, even if they work for a religious school.

"The Supreme Court didn't give us a kind of neat little on-off test as to who's a minister and who isn't," explained Rick Garnett, associate dean and professor of law at Notre Dame Law School.

Kathleen Delaney, Herx's attorney, has stated she believes her client does not qualify as a religious employee.

"She was not a religion teacher. 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," Delaney said.