(The Center Square) – A U.S. District judge has ruled against a Washington church concerning a 2018 law requiring all health plans to include abortion coverage, reversing a 2021 9th Circuit court ruling.
Cedar Park Assembly of God, located in Kirkland, sued the state in 2019 after the legislature enacted SB 6219, mandating that health plans maternity care coverage have “substantially equivalent coverage to permit the abortion of a pregnancy.” The church claimed the law violated its religious beliefs by forcing it to renew its healthcare plans to include that coverage despite being morally opposed to abortion.
In his ruling, Judge Benjamin Settle concluded that “none of the State’s arguments seem to fully address the crux of Cedar Park’s facilitation complaint,” adding that “because of SB 6219, Cedar Park’s employees gained coverage for abortion services under their employer-sponsored health insurance plan that they would not otherwise. Even if the ‘facilitation’ is somewhat minimal, SB 6219 requires Cedar Park to facilitate access to covered abortion services contrary to Cedar Park’s religious beliefs. Thus, SB 6219, under certain circumstances, could burden religion.”
Nevertheless, he ultimately sided with the state and dismissed the plaintiff’s case with prejudice, finding that SB 6219 was religiously neutral, and there were “multiple legitimate governmental purposes for enacting SB 6219, including promoting gender equity, promoting economic success of women, improving women’s health, and protecting privacy. These are all legitimate governmental purposes.”
“Purchasing a health insurance plan is not an ecclesiastical decision and thus the religious autonomy doctrine does not apply,” he wrote in his decision. “Cedar Park’s religious autonomy claim therefore fails as a matter of law.”
The church’s lawsuit was initially dismissed by a district court before it was later upheld in a 2021 Ninth Circuit court ruling.
In an email to The Center Square, Alliance Defending Freedom Senior Counsel Kevin Theriot wrote that “Cedar Park believes and teaches that every human life begins at conception and is worthy of protection. They live out this principle in and through their entire ministry—they partner with local pregnancy centers, host a camp for local children in foster care, host an annual service for couples struggling with infertility, and co-founded an adoption agency for frozen embryos remaining from in vitro fertilization.
“By forcing pro-life churches to cover abortions in their health insurance plans, the State of Washington is going against past U.S. Supreme Court rulings that have consistently held that government hostility against people of faith is unconstitutional and has no place in our society. No one should be forced by the government to pay for abortions. We are disappointed in the court’s ruling and will be considering our options for next steps.”
In a social media post, the AGO wrote that “The Alliance Defending Freedom challenged a law passed by the #waleg in 2018 requiring that health plans include coverage for contraception and reproductive health care. Today we won.”