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Seattle-area church required to pay for abortions returns to 9th Circuit

Cedar Park Church asks appeals court for freedom to abide by its beliefs
Jay and Sandy Smith of Cedar Park Church sitting on a wooden bench
Alliance Defending Freedom
Alliance Defending Freedom

SEATTLE – Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys representing a Seattle-area church filed a notice of appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit Wednesday after a lower court ruled that the church must violate its constitutionally protected pro-life religious beliefs and abide by the state’s mandate that all Washington employers provide abortion coverage for employees.

In July 2021, the 9th Circuit reversed the district court’s decision to dismiss Cedar Park Church’s case, filed after Washington state Senate Bill 6219 was signed into law in March 2018. The law requires Cedar Park to provide coverage for abortion if the church also offers maternity care coverage to its employees—or face fines and criminal penalties, including imprisonment. The district court has now ruled against the church again, this time on the merits, prompting the appeal.

“Cedar Park Church celebrates life from conception to natural death; it’s unconscionable for the state to force any church to pay for abortions,” said ADF Senior Counsel and Vice President of Appellate Advocacy John Bursch. “The abortion coverage mandate clearly requires Cedar Park to act contrary to its religious beliefs and therefore violates its constitutionally protected freedoms. The U.S. Supreme Court has established that the government cannot compel religious organizations to act in violation of their sincerely held faith convictions. We urge the 9th Circuit to uphold Cedar Park’s right to provide health care for its employees without compromising its faith.”

Cedar Park’s insurance carrier added surgical abortion coverage to Cedar Park’s health plan after the state law went into effect. The insurer indicated that it would remove the offensive coverage if a court were to hold the law cannot constitutionally be applied to churches.

ADF attorneys have maintained in Cedar Park Assembly of God of Kirkland v. Kreidler that the state’s legal arguments are not supported by the facts of the case and don’t hold up to Supreme Court precedent.

“SB 6219 contains secular exemptions that undermine its alleged purpose of protecting women’s reproductive health but has no corresponding exemption for health plans of religious organizations like Cedar Park,” one brief noted.

Alliance Defending Freedom is an alliance-building, non-profit legal organization committed to protecting religious freedom, free speech, parental rights, and the sanctity of life.

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John Bursch
John Bursch
Senior Counsel, Vice President of Appellate Advocacy
John Bursch is senior counsel and vice president of appellate advocacy with Alliance Defending Freedom.