An Assemblies of God congregation near Seattle is one step closer to being released from a Washington state law requirement that its employee health-insurance plans cover abortion if they also offer maternity care.
In a Thursday decision, a panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said a 2018 law caused injury to the Cedar Park Assembly of God, reversing a decision by the district that it had not and thereby dismissing the case.
“Cedar Park’s complaint plausibly alleged that, due to the enactment of SB 6219, its health insurer stopped offering a plan with abortion coverage restrictions and Cedar Park could not procure comparable replacement coverage,” the 9th Circuit decision stated.
“This is sufficient to state an injury in fact that is fairly traceable to SB 6219,” the appeals court said.
The church’s lawsuit, Cedar Park Assembly of God of Kirkland v. Kreidler, challenges the constitutionality of forcing places of worship to cover elective abortions in their health insurance plans with no exemption for religious objections.
After the Washington state measure’s enactment in March 2018, Kaiser Permanente added abortion coverage to the church’s policy, which covers about 185 employees.
The Pentecostal church sued, with assistance from the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), but a district court said the church was not “injured” by the law’s provisions.
The circuit court reversed that ruling, sending the case back to the district court.
In 2020 a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Little Sisters of the Poor v. Azar exempted ministries from Obamacare health-insurance requirements that violate their religion.
Asked why the Washington state situation exists, ADF attorney Kevin Theriot, said the state “is targeting the church and other ministries and businesses because they want to advance the cause of abortion.”
Mr. Theriot added, “The state of Washington shouldn’t force Cedar Park to violate its faith in order to provide quality health care for its staff members. I think this decision also is important for churches in California that are safe facing a similar situation. And the Ninth Circuit has been very consistent that churches who are forced to cover abortion and their health care plans for their employees have a valid cause of action against the state.”
The ADF attorney said the group has had no indication that Washington state will appeal the July 22 decision to the full 9th Circuit, although that remains a possibility for now.
The church is located in Kirkland, Washington, a Seattle suburb, and operates a school with 1,000 students, among other ministries.