A federal appeals court heard arguments this month in a major case involving a Washington state law that forces employers, including churches, to cover abortion in their employees’ health insurance plans.
The law in question, the Reproductive Parity Act, was signed in 2018 by Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee and requires any insurance plan that covers maternity care to also cover abortion. It includes no exemption for houses of worship.
Seattle-area Cedar Park Assembly of God filed suit in 2019 against the state, although a district court last year dismissed the case and ruled the church did not have standing.
The U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals heard oral arguments in an appeal on July 9. In its opening brief to the Ninth Circuit, the church said it believes all “human life is sacred from the moment of conception” and that “participating in, facilitating, or paying for abortion is a grave sin.” The church, according to the brief, objects “to paying for, facilitating access to, or providing insurance coverage for abortion or abortifacient contraceptives under any circumstance.”
Alliance Defending Freedom is representing the congregation. ADF calls it a “nearly unprecedented state law.”
“Churches must be free to operate according to their religious convictions, including the belief that human life begins at conception and is sacred,” said ADF legal counsel Elissa Graves. “Washington state has no legal or constitutional basis to force Cedar Park to provide insurance coverage for abortions – an action that directly contradicts the church’s extensive work in caring for vulnerable individuals.”
The law violates the church’s religious liberty rights under the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, the lawsuit says.
“Washington state is violating churches’ First Amendment rights by forcing them to cover abortions in their health plans, contrary to their religious beliefs,” said ADF senior counsel John Bursch. “The U.S. Supreme Court has consistently held that government hostility toward people of faith is unconstitutional. The government cannot target Cedar Park, or any other church or religious nonprofit, for simply abiding by their legitimate internal policies and deeply held convictions.”
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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.