A church in Seattle, Washington, will receive another opportunity to make its case against including abortion coverage in its health insurance policy offerings.
In a ruling on Thursday, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals struck down a district court’s decision to throw out a lawsuit by Cedar Park Church against a 2018 law that removed the religious exemption to providing abortion coverage.
“Sufficient to state an injury”
While the lower court determined that the church did not have proper standing to bring the case since it could not show a direct injury from SB 6219, the appeals panel disagreed.
The three-judge bench argued that when Kaiser Permanente removed the abortion restriction from the church’s health insurance plan because of the law’s mandate, it constituted an injury.
“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 judges concluded. “This is sufficient to state an injury in fact that is fairly traceable to SB 6219.”
Of course, the latest decision does not nullify the law or create an exception for churches. Instead, it forces the district court to hear the case rather than dismissing it over lack of standing.
The appeals panel also disagreed with lawyers for the state who asserted that Kaiser Permanente could have continued to offer the abortion-restricted health care plans and that the provider interpreted the law to mean that such policies were no longer legal.
“A big step forward”
Notably, the panel did agree with part of the district court’s ruling, which stated that Washington did not violate the church’s 14th Amendment right to due process.
For its part, the church plans to argue that the state violated its First Amendment right to free exercise of religion.
Alliance Defending Freedom Vice President John Bursch issued a statement declaring that the state “has no legal authority to force places of worship to fund abortions and violate their constitutional rights, as well as their religious beliefs.”
The appeals court decision, he noted, “is a big step forward in preventing the government from targeting churches and we look forward to continue challenging this law at the district court.”
In reality, cases like this one will likely never be truly settled as religious freedom continues to face attacks by those on the left who equate abortion with health care.