The U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals handed a Seattle-area church a major legal victory Thursday when it ruled the congregation was harmed by a new law that forces insurance plans to cover abortion.
The five-page decision by the Ninth Circuit reversed a ruling by a district court, which had tossed the case and ruled the church did not have standing. The decision by the three-judge panel was unanimous.
The law in question, the Reproductive Parity Act [SB 6219], was signed by Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee in 2018. The law requires all insurance plans covering maternity care to also cover abortion. It does not include an exemption for houses of worship.
Seattle-area Cedar Park Assembly of God brought the lawsuit.
“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,” the decision read. “This is sufficient to state an injury in fact that is fairly traceable to SB 6219.”
The case now heads back to the district court.
Alliance Defending Freedom, which is representing the church in court, applauded the ruling. Kaiser Permanente “inserted surgical abortion coverage directly into Cedar Park’s health plan after the law went into effect,” ADF said.
“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.”
ADF senior counsel John Bursch said the decision is a “big step forward” in “preventing the government from targeting churches.”
“[W]e look forward to continue challenging this law at the district court,” Bursch said.
All three judges were nominated by President George W. Bush.
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Michael Foust has covered the intersection of faith and news for 20 years. His stories have appeared in Baptist Press, Christianity Today, The Christian Post, the Leaf-Chronicle, the Toronto Star and the Knoxville News-Sentinel.