INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — A former Roman Catholic schoolteacher who sued a northern Indiana diocese after being fired nearly three years ago for having in vitro fertilization says in court documents that church doctrine on the procedure should not be presented to the jury.
In documents filed last week in federal court in Fort Wayne, church attorneys said they want Bishop Kevin Rhoades and other officials in the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend to testify and explain the doctrine in Emily Herx’s sex discrimination lawsuit against the diocese and St. Vincent De Paul School in Fort Wayne.
But Herx’s attorneys said in documents the doctrine is irrelevant and that the church has flipped its former position.
“Defendants have argued repeatedly that their religious teachings should not be hashed out before a secular court, and now they seek to bring religious teachings front and center,” Herx’s lawyers wrote.
The Roman Catholic Church shuns in vitro fertilization, or IVF, which involves mixing egg and sperm in a laboratory dish and transferring a resulting embryo into the womb.
Herx sued the diocese in April 2012, alleging the diocese violated the Civil Rights Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act by discriminating against her based on gender and on infertility, which is considered a disability.
In a letter Herx wrote to St. Vincent officials shortly after she was informed of her dismissal, she said it was terrible to be forced to choose between trying to have children and keeping her job as a language arts teacher. Herx, who is not Catholic, said in the letter that she miscarried the embryo at the end of April 2011, shortly after learning her contract would not be renewed.
The diocese covers roughly the northeastern quarter of Indiana. It has said that teachers, even those who aren’t Catholic, are required by their contracts to abide by Catholic tenets and “serve as moral exemplars.”
Herx, 34, said that the church pastor told her she was a “grave, immoral sinner.” The pastor has denied making the statement, said Sean McBride, a diocesan spokesman.
In January, Shaela Evenson, an unmarried teacher at a Roman Catholic middle school in Butte, Mont., was fired after getting pregnant. The Diocese of Montana said she violated the terms of her contract, which requires her to respect the moral and religious teachings of the Catholic Church in both her professional and personal life. The church believes that procreation should be limited to marital sex. Evenson said she is pursuing legal action.
In Herx’s case, diocese officials have said the lawsuit challenges its freedom to make decisions based on religious belief.
“Whether IVF violates the teachings of the Catholic Church is not a fact at issue in this case,” Herx’s attorneys said. The American Civil Liberties Union and the American Society for Reproductive Medicine have filed briefs in support of Herx.
Attorneys for both sides did not have additional comment Thursday. No date for the trial has been set.