Following infertilite reproductive rights in the news

Last year for NIAW 2012 I reported on a story that a pregnant teacher initiated a lawsuit against her diocese employer for discrimination after she was fired for having conceived with IVF  – an artificial reproductive technology the Church does not support.

Are you thinking, “Oh yeah, didn’t a jury just rule on that in favor of the teacher?”

Yes, they did – but not for the same teacher.

In early June 2013 the story of a jury finding in favor of Christa Dias made national news in more than one outlet.  Dias is not Catholic herself, nor was she married, but she became pregnant through artificial insemination and was fired from her job as a computer teacher in the Archdiocese of Cincinnati shortly after revealing her pregnancy.  The Archdiocese argued that her contract as a teacher stated she would uphold the teachings of the Church; Dias argued that clause was meant to be liberally interpreted as being a good Christian, not necessarily knowing the dogma.  The jury ruled in favor of Dias’ right to reproduce over the diocese’s right to religious freedom.

I read the article and thought, “Hooray!  Victory for reproductive rights!”  But then I searched the article for any new details about the teachers’ infertility, and found only that the teacher was gay… a detail I wouldn’t miss (unless it hadn’t been revealed)… and so I did more research.

It turns out there were two instances of teachers in the midwest being fired from their parochial jobs for having used ART to get pregnant in the last few years, who then sued their respective diocese.  Dias was fired in 2010, and Emily Herx, the more recent story out of Indiana, in 2012.  Dias’ trial wrapped up before Herx’s, and had originally been reported on in the years before I was paying attention to these kinds of stories.  So it would be easy for the casual observer who might only read headlines to remember “Teacher fired for IVF sues diocese” and see “Jury rules for teacher fired for pregnancy” and think they were the same story like I had originally.  Good, no need to think about that anymore!  That settles that!

Except it doesn’t.  Herx’s lawsuit is still waiting to go before a jury, although it bodes well for her that Dias’ ended and settled the way that it did.  And Herx sought IVF treatment because of her infertility; Dias was artificially inseminated (which could mean IUI) because she was single and didn’t have a (male) partner.

What I fear will happen when Herx’s suit is settled is that it will fade into the lost land of newsmedia, its 5 minutes of fame usurped by a more recent ruling of a similar story.  And with it will go the need for public discussion of infertility, and how infertilites need to get behind keeping reproductive rights open to all – gay, straight, male, female.

See, Herx already has children and due to some “health condition” would need to have used IVF to continue to expand her family.  (Read the latest here).  For some, I’d imagine this isn’t as compelling a story as one about a single lesbian seeking to have the opportunity to be a mom.  For others, any story about protecting reproductive rights is of critical importance to our personal freedom.

I for one will be setting a Google alert to remind me about Emily Herx and her lawsuit.  I’m interested to see how much of a role her infertility diagnosis plays into the arguments and the jury’s findings, and if the media educates the public on the diagnosis to help humanize the story.  I hope you will follow along with me.

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