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Church appeals law forcing them to pay for healthcare cover that includes abortions

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Casey Harper

(The Center Square) – A Seattle-area church filed with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit this week after a lower court ruled that the church must pay for healthcare coverage that includes elective abortions.

A Washington state law passed in 2018 requires most employers to provide healthcare coverage for employees that includes elective abortions if the coverage also includes maternity care. Those who violate the law can face criminal penalties, including even prison time.

“Cedar Park Church celebrates and protects life from conception to natural death; it’s unconscionable for the state to force any church to pay for abortions,” John Bursch, Senior Counsel and Vice President of Appellate Advocacy at Alliance Defending Freedom, the legal group helping represent the church, said in a statement.

“The abortion coverage mandate requires Cedar Park to act contrary to its religious beliefs and violates its constitutionally protected freedoms," he added. "The U.S. Supreme Court has established that the government cannot compel religious organizations to act in violation of their sincerely held faith convictions.”

Bursch pointed to Fulton v. City of Philadelphia, a recent Supreme Court ruling where the court said that the city of Philadelphia could not stop sending foster-care referrals to Catholic Social Services because of its beliefs about marriage. The case was a win for religious liberty advocates, pushing back against how the government can discriminate against faith-based groups for their beliefs.

A key issue in this new case, Cedar Park Assembly of God of Kirkland v. Kreidler, is whether churches can access the same conscience protections extended to health care providers.

“Washington offers real conscience protection to health care providers, religiously sponsored health carriers, and health care facilities,” ADF said in its opening brief. “These religious objectors are exempt from including abortion coverage in their own employee health plans or paying for abortion coverage in any circumstance. Yet because Cedar Park is a church and not a healthcare-related entity, Washington forces it to (at least) indirectly include abortion and abortifacient contraceptives in its health plan. And the state authorizes health carriers to charge Cedar Park for this abortion coverage surreptitiously.”