9th Circuit Rules In Favor Of Seattle-Area Church Forced To Pay For Abortions

Ninth Circuit Court
[Photo courtesy U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit]

SEATTLE – On Friday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit ruled that a Seattle-area church properly challenged the state’s abortion coverage mandate and that a lower court was wrong to dismiss the church’s free-exercise claim.

The 9th Circuit recognized that Cedar Park Church, represented by Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys, suffered an injury after Washington state Senate Bill 6219 was signed into law in March 2018. The law requires Cedar Park to provide coverage for abortion if the church also offers maternity care coverage to its employees or face fines and criminal penalties, including imprisonment.

In its ruling, the 9th Circuit stated: “Cedar Park’s complaint plausibly alleged that, due to the enactment of SB 6219, its health insurer (Kaiser Permanente) stopped offering a plan with abortion coverage restrictions and Cedar Park could not procure comparable replacement coverage. This is sufficient to state an injury in fact that is fairly traceable to SB 6219.”

“No church should be forced to cover abortions, and certainly not a church like Cedar Park that dedicates its ministry to protecting and celebrating life,” said ADF Legal Counsel Elissa Graves. “We are pleased the 9th Circuit rightly recognized the harm that Washington state has inflicted on Cedar Park Church in subjecting it to this unprecedented mandate.”

The church’s lawsuit, Cedar Park Assembly of God of Kirkland v. Kreidler, challenges the constitutionality of Senate Bill 6219 that forces places of worship to cover elective abortions in their health insurance plans despite religious objections. Cedar Park’s insurance carrier inserted surgical abortion coverage directly into Cedar Park’s health plan after the law went into effect. The insurer indicated that it would remove the offensive coverage if a court were to hold the law cannot constitutionally be applied to churches.

“Washington state has no legal authority to force places of worship to fund abortions and violate their constitutional rights, as well as their religious beliefs,” said ADF Senior Counsel and Vice President of Appellate John Bursch. “Today’s decision is a big step forward in preventing the government from targeting churches and we look forward to continue challenging this law at the district court.”