My husband is a graduate of a Catholic school within the Fort Wayne – South Bend Diocese. My mother-in-law was a teacher in the same group of schools and just recently retired after helping countless students. While I never attended parochial school, it is something that we’re considering for our daughter’s education. My family has very close ties to the Catholic schools in this area, including the school that recently fired a teacher, Emily Herx, for seeking in vitro fertilization to help her grow her family.
This story made major waves in newsrooms around the country. A dedicated and successful teacher lost her job because she and her husband sought medical help to have a child. It seems horrible and completely inexplicable.
This woman needed time off for her second round of IVF treatments, but instead of understanding or support from her employers, Emily Herx was called a “grave, immoral sinner.” Now, she’s suing the Diocese for discrimination because Herx has a medical disability that prevents her from having kids in a more traditional fashion.
These are the facts of this case, and it’s taken quite a while for me to wrap my head around them. I’ve met the priests in Fort Wayne’s Catholic churches. I know more than a few members of these churches and graduates of these schools. And of course, I’ve personally struggled with infertility and the intense desire to have a child.
I know the Church’s views on in vitro fertilization. I do not agree with them. I find it disturbing that the Church equates in vitro, which brings a desired life into the world, with abortion, which ends a pregnancy. I think that it’s heartless to look at women who are simply trying to become parents and demand that they not use the technology available to them in the name of faith. And I think it’s disgusting to insinuate that there could be something wrong with children because they were conceived through IVF, as opposed to more traditional means. I do not agree that in vitro should be a “grave, immoral sin.”
But Church doctrine isn’t mine to decide. Whether I agree with it or not, the Catholic Church believes that in vitro is a sin, and they make those views abundantly clear. So when one of their teachers wanted to undergo this treatment, they chose not to renew her contract, citing “ “improprieties related to church teachings or law.” As a religious institution, they really do have the right to make this decision.
I don’t agree with the decision. I feel horrible for the woman who had to suffer because of it. I sincerely hope that she gets a job within Fort Wayne Community Schools. (They have awesome benefits, I grew up under their plan.) But it is not up to me to decide who works at a Catholic school. They are an employer and they have the right to make that decision on their own.
Indiana is a right-to-work state. Even though it doesn’t sound like it, right-to-work means that your employers have the right to fire you at any time, without any reason whatsoever. The Church could’ve simply let Herx go without any explanation at all and saved themselves quite the controversy. The priest who called Herx a “grave, immoral sinner” was probably trying to shepherd his flock, not make a statement about employment. He was repeating a very firm Church teaching.
The Catholic Church believes that IVF is a mortal sin, and they have the right to decide that a woman who uses IVF shouldn’t be employed by the Church. I don’t have to agree with their stance, but I do have to respect that its their choice to make.
I think arguing about the school’s personnel decisions is directing the anger in the wrong place. If you don’t believe the Church should do this and you’re a member of the Catholic Church, then you need to talk to your priests. If you’re a member of a different Church or religion, make sure that the leaders in your organization wouldn’t do the same thing. And if you aren’t a member of any religious group, support the public school system that follows more open and ethical employment practices.
This controversy isn’t really about one woman’s job. People seem outraged to hear IVF called a grave, immoral sin. But that’s always been the Catholic Church’s stance on the issue. It just happened to be brought up in the news thanks to this particular case.
I have all the sympathy in the world for Emily Herx and I hope that she teaches again soon and gets the family that she’s hoping for. But Catholic school teachers are informed that they are expected to uphold Catholic practices in the school. Being pregnant through IVF is something that the Church would find seriously problematic. They had the right to choose not to renew her contract, no matter how much it pains me to acknowledge it.