For a faith seemingly hell-bent on supporting the creation of life whether a mother wants it or not, the Catholic Church's position on fertility treatments is confusing at best. But it turned out to be a particularly thorny issue for one teacher at a Catholic school in Fort Wayne, Indiana, who was fired after she underwent in vitro fertilization — largely because the school feared it would cause a scandal if word got out. Holy backfire.
The teacher, Emily Herx, is suing St. Vincent de Paul Catholic school in federal court for firing her. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission previously found that the Fort Wayne-South Bend Diocese violated her civil rights and violated the Americans with Disabilities Act—because infertility is considered a disability.
This whole clusterfuck began back in April of last year, when her contract for the upcoming school year was not renewed because of "improprieties related to church teachings or law." Of course, how could she have known she was in violation of church teachings when she was not required by the school to be trained in the Catholic faith in order to be employed as a Literature and Language Arts teacher. Perhaps God was just supposed to send her a message telling her what she was doing was wrong?
What's more, she was perfectly open with her supervisor about the fact that she and her husband were pursuing fertility treatment. Herx has a diagnosed medical condition which causes infertility, and in 2010, she told the school's principal she would need to take some sick days to undergo the IVF treatment. According to the lawsuit she filed, there was no objection by the principal during her first round of IVF. In fact, the principal told her, "You are in my prayers." She then signed a contract to teach for the 2010-2011 school year, and she was never alerted that her choice to get IVF might go against Catholic teachings and result in disciplinary action against her.
Then, over a year later, she asked for additional time off to receive a second IVF treatment, and this time she was asked to meet with St. Vincent de Paul pastor, Rev. John Kuzmich. He told her in that meeting that he was worried her IVF treatments would cause a scandal, and he said he'd already gotten one complaint about it from another teacher. Well, it certainly wouldn't cause a scandal if you'd all mind your own business and keep your mouths shut, but that just wouldn't be right, I suppose.
Herx, who had an excellent record with the school, asked Kuzmich if she was in danger of losing her job, and he told her he needed to do further research. Then the following month she was abruptly told her contract was not being renewed for the 2011-2012 year. She held a follow-up meeting with Kuzmich and other school officials in which he specifically told her she was being fired because she violated the Church's teachings and not because she was a bad teacher. Oh, and for good measure, he repeatedly called her a "grave, immoral sinner" and again brought up that her treatments could cause a scandal. What a positively Christian way to handle the situation...
She asked for the chance to appeal to the Bishop but was denied. She later filed the complaint with the EEOC, which found in her favor. Herx's attorney Kathleen DeLaney maintains that Herx was "terminated only for trying to enlarge her family with husband," a mission which we are constantly reminded is of the utmost importance to the Catholic Church. DeLaney would not confirm whether Herx ever ended up getting pregnant, and she said, not surprisingly, that the firing had been a "traumatic event" for Herx. Sean McBride, spokesman for the Diocese, says, "We are saddened at the filing of the lawsuit." Aww, sorry you're so sad, Diocese! Looks like you got that scandal after all.
So what is the school's big problem with IVF, anyway? In an official statement yesterday, the Diocese said the Church is against IVF because it, "very frequently involves the deliberate destruction of embryos or the freezing of embryos, which the Church holds to be incompatible with the respect owed to human life." Herx informed the church that no embryos have been destroyed during the process of her treatments. She also paid for the treatments through the self-funded insurance offered through the Diocese. And what about some respect for Herx's wish to create life and her ability to make a living? Yeah, not so much.
The other problem with the Diocese says it has with IVF is that it considers it, "morally unacceptable to ‘disassociate procreation from the integrally personal context of the conjugal act' and insists that procreation not be reduced to mere reproduction." Oh really? Because Herx's lawsuit points out,
Defendants similarly employ male teachers … who have received medical treatments or procedures, including vasectomies, which effect or alter their fertility. Defendants employ male teachers … who use contraceptives … who have received fertility treatment or their spouses have received fertility treatments.
Double standards much? Naturally, the Diocese maintained in its statement that it has,
[C]lear policies requiring that teachers in its schools must, as a condition of employment, have a knowledge of and respect for the Catholic faith, and abide by the tenets of the Catholic Church as those tenets apply to that person.
Well then, perhaps you ought to require that the teachers be trained in what exactly that entails before you employ them? Also, you might try giving them some kind of warning or chance to correct their "mistakes" before terminating them out of left field. While you're at it, you might try enforcing those policies equally across the board. Oh, one more teeny tiny, small thing, you probably shouldn't violate federal law when firing people.
Fired teacher suing diocese [Journal Gazette]
Diocese issues statement on discrimination suit [Journal Gazette]
Teacher Fired After Receiving Fertility Treatments [ABC]
Image by Jim Cooke, source photo via somersault18:24/Shutterstock.