A federal lawsuit brought by an Indiana teacher against her former Catholic school employer could set up another fierce debate over reproductive rights versus religious beliefs.
Emily Herx, a former literature instructor at St. Vincent de Paul School in Fort Wayne, Ind., claims that church officials fired her last June for using in vitro fertilization to have a child with her husband. She is now suing the school and the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend for being wrongly let go from her position, which she held since 2003.
According to court documents, a senior church official told Herx that utilizing in vitro fertilization made her a “grave, immoral sinner” and that it could bring scandal to the school.
Herx’s lawyer, Kathleen DeLaney, told ABC News that her client was “terminated only for trying to enlarge her family with her husband.”
The Roman Catholic Church disapproves of in vitro fertilization, a procedure that mixes egg and sperm in a laboratory dish and shifts the resulting embryo into the womb. Herx decided to use this method because she suffers from a medical condition that causes infertility.
The lawsuit states that a senior church official told Herx that the church shuns the treatment because it requires the creation of additional human embryos that are destroyed. Herx said she told the diocese that embryos would not be destroyed. She made a final appeal to Bishop Kevin Rhoades, but he would not reinstate her and claimed in vitro fertilization is an “intrinsic evil,” according to court documents.
In a statement issued to the Associated Press today, diocese officials said the lawsuit challenges the church’s right “to make religious based decisions consistent with its religious standards on an impartial basis.”
Some legal experts say the case could expose a gray area in the role of separation of church and state that has not been decided by the U.S. Supreme Court.