At the top of Thursday's NBC Nightly News, fill-in anchor Savannah Guthrie proclaimed: "Fired for trying to get pregnant. Tonight, the teacher versus the Catholic school." Guthrie was referring to Indiana Catholic school teacher Emily Herx claiming she was fired after receiving in vitro fertilization treatments and touted the case as "another legal showdown over religious and reproductive rights."
In the report that followed, correspondent Katy Tur declared: "It is one woman's battle against infertility and the restrictions of the Catholic Church." After promoting Herx's allegation that parish Monsignor John Kuzmic called her "a grave immoral sinner" for having the treatment, a sound bite played of Herx lamenting: "My husband was heartbroken, my family was heartbroken. It's been very emotional and traumatic for all of us."
Tur fretted over the Church's unwillingness to compromise its moral principles: "Herx says she appealed to Bishop Kevin Rhodes. In her lawsuit, she says he called the procedure "an intrinsic evil, which means no circumstances can justify it." Even Herx's circumstances. Doctors told her after the birth of her first child that she had become medically infertile."
On Thursday's NBC Today, co-host Ann Curry interviewed Herx and began by sympathetically observing: "You know, IVF treatments are tough enough, but you started this job fresh out of college you've been at it for all this time, seven years, this has got to be emotional for you." Herx replied: "It's been a very emotional time for both of us and actually my whole family. We've struggled trying to wrap our minds around what's happened here....it was awful."
Later in the segment, Curry turned to Herx's husband and wondered: "Brian, to watch your family go through this, I can see the sadness in your eyes. How much has your family been hurt by this?" Brian Herx responded: "We've been extremely hurt by this. You know, she was dedicated to the school. She loved the students there, loved what she did there, and unfortunately, you know, it was all ripped away from her."
In fairness to Curry, she did put some challenging questions to Emily Herx and her attorney Kathleen Delaney:
CURRY: The diocese says that it supports fertility treatments but not those that go against Church doctrine. And that includes IVF because it says, quote, "that these frequently involve the deliberate destruction and freezing of embryos." Can you see – can you respect why the Church has taken that position?
KATHLEEN DELANEY: I think that's a question that is more for the legal analysis, Ann, and we're not arguing with the Church about what its doctrines are. The claim is based on the fact that employers need to respect anti-discrimination laws.
CURRY: But, however, I want to ask you about this, Kathleen, because the Church is denying any discrimination in this case and says that the lawsuit is a challenge of the Church's right, quote, "as a religious employer to make religious-based decisions consistent with its religious standards on an impartial basis." And as you know, earlier this year, the Supreme Court ruled that anti-discrimination laws allow ministerial exception for religious workers. So is not Emily a religious worker?
DELANEY: The ministerial exception has not been completely defined by the United States Supreme Court yet. And this case will help set the standards for other employees and other employers. But we don't believe that Emily fits within the ministerial exception, and her facts are distinguishable from that case. The teacher in that other case was a Lutheran minister. She had a title of a minister. She taught religion courses. And she had to go through religious training and education as a condition of her employment. None of those facts are present in Emily's case.
CURRY: Did you ever think, Emily, that maybe you should not speak up and say to your employer in this case, guided by a diocese, that you were going – undergoing IVF treatments?
HERX: The unusual part about this is from day one from my interview, my employer asked me when I was going to start a family and how many kids I was going to have. And after I got pregnant with my first son, she asked me when I was going to have another child. So she made it a very personal issue from the get-go.
NBC failed to bring on anyone to stand up for the Church's position. Tur wrapped her Nightly News report with another statement from Herx: "I'm proud because my 7-year-old, one day he's going to know that his mom stood up for what is right."
Here is a full transcript of Tur's April 26 Nightly News report:
7:00PM ET TEASE:
SAVANNAH GUTHRIE: Fired for trying to get pregnant. Tonight, the teacher versus the Catholic school.
7:13AM ET TEASE:
GUTHRIE: And still ahead as Nightly News continues, the teacher who says she was fired by her Catholic school for fertility treatments. Well, now she's taking the Church to court.
7:15AM ET SEGMENT:
GUTHRIE: In Indiana tonight, a former teacher at a Catholic school is suing the Diocese of Fort Wayne. She says she was fired from her job because she was trying to get pregnant using the fertility treatment IVF. The case could lead to another legal showdown over religious and reproductive rights. Here's NBC's Katy Tur.
KATY TUR: It is one woman's battle against infertility and the restrictions of the Catholic Church. Emily Herx taught literature and language at this Catholic school. She says she was fired for trying to expand her family and has filed a lawsuit claiming the Catholic school's monsignor refused to renew her contract and called her "a grave immoral sinner."
EMILY HERX: My husband was heartbroken, my family was heartbroken. It's been very emotional and traumatic for all of us.
TUR: At issue was the way in which Herx was trying to get pregnant, in vitro fertilization. Herx says she appealed to Bishop Kevin Rhodes. In her lawsuit, she says he called the procedure "an intrinsic evil, which means no circumstances can justify it." Even Herx's circumstances. Doctors told her after the birth of her first child that she had become medically infertile.
The diocese here in Fort Wayne says Herx was not a victim of discrimination, that it had the right as a religious employer to make decisions consistent with its religious standards. In a statement, the school said it, "has clear 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."
DOUGLAS LAYCOCK [UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA]: I'm sure the Church is going to say that having a teacher in a Catholic school that undermines Church doctrine in this way and models that for students is an undue hardship.
TUR: In Januray, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that church employees who pass on a religious message cannot sue for job discrimination, but Emily Herx says she teaches only language and literature, not Catholic doctrine, and therefore should be allowed to sue.
HERX: I'm proud because my 7-year-old, one day he's going to know that his mom stood up for what is right.
TUR: Herx is not only asking for her job back, but also for compensation for emotional distress and mental anguish. Katy Tur, NBC News, Fort Wayne, Indiana.