Healthcare mandate déjà vu
Washington state church fights pro-abortion law
A Seattle-area church filed an appeal on Wednesday in its fight against a state law that requires churches to cover elective abortions in their employee health insurance plans.
Cedar Park Church in Kirkland, Wash., sued the state in March 2019, arguing a 2018 law, which contains no exemption for churches and other religious organizations that oppose abortion, violates its free exercise of religion.
“In 2018, the state of Washington acted in concert with Planned Parenthood—the nation’s largest abortion provider—and NARAL Pro-Choice Washington to draft, promote, pass, and implement [Senate Bill] 6219,” lawyers for the church said in the appellate brief. They added that the lack of a religious exemption made it impossible for the church to obtain any group health insurance that does not pay for abortions. In May, a federal court upheld the law because the church lacked standing to file the lawsuit.
“Washington state is bullying churches and other religious nonprofits through the force of law, compelling them to violate their beliefs by covering abortions in their health plans,” said Alliance Defending Freedom senior counsel John Bursch, who is representing Cedar Park. Arguing that the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals should allow this case to go forward, Bursch pointed to a case involving a San Diego–area church that confronted a similar mandate. Skyline Wesleyan Church, rebuffed by a federal court on similar grounds, was vindicated on appeal.
If this dispute invokes a sense of déjà vu, it should. In July, the Supreme Court sided with a Catholic order of nuns fighting states over a federal healthcare mandate requiring abortion coverage. While the decision does not bind appeals courts in their interpretation of a state’s law, its message of protecting religious liberty should resonate.
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