Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals rules in favor of church challenging Washington state abortion insurance mandate

Padden calls decision a ‘significant victory’ for advocates of religious liberty

A controversial Washington law requiring private-insurance plans that provide maternity coverage to also pay for elective abortions received a major blow last week when the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit ruled that a Seattle-area church was indeed harmed by the abortion mandate and reversed a lower court’s dismissal of the church’s First Amendment claim. The decision also puts into question the constitutionality of another state law (that passed this year and went into effect this Sunday) that extends the abortion mandate to college health plans.

Sen. Mike Padden, R-Spokane Valley and the Legislature’s chief opponent of the measure, applauded the decision.

“This is a small but significant victory for those who are advocating for religious liberty and the right to life,” said Padden. “We warned the majority at the time that this measure was almost certainly a violation of the religious liberty of Washingtonians that would be challenged in court. Despite the rhetoric of its proponents, the abortion mandate is about as far away from being pro-choice as any law could be.

“Many Washington citizens view elective abortion as the taking of innocent human life, and feel that it is morally reprehensible to force them to pay for abortion through increased health-care premiums, provide it through the health-care packages they provide employees or cover it through the insurance policies they offer for sale.

“I am happy to see that the plaintiffs will be allowed to move forward with their common-sense challenge of this blatantly unjust law.”

Washington Family Policy Institute Executive Director Mark Miloscia, who represented the 30th District in the Legislature for 17 years, agreed.

“Cedar Park Church and religious liberty had a big win with this court ruling, which recognized that churches and religious organizations do have standing and have been harmed by forcing them to pay for abortions. We now hope that the lower court will rule in favor on the merits on this case and not force churches to pay for taking the life of unborn babies,” said Miloscia.

Former state Sen. Mark Miloscia, who currently serves as executive director at the Family Policy Institute of Washington, with Sen. Mike Padden during the 2018 legislative session.

In 2018, the Legislature’s majority Democrats forced through the bill requiring health plans in Washington that cover maternity care to also cover abortions. The law created by Senate Bill 6219, known as the Abortion Insurance Mandate by some and as the Reproductive Parity Act by others, is being challenged by Cedar Park Church, a congregation in King County, with help from the Alliance Defending Freedom.

In its July 22 ruling, the 9th Circuit stated: “Cedar Park’s complaint plausibly alleged that, due to the enactment of SB 6219, its health insurer (Kaiser Permanente) stopped offering a plan with abortion coverage restrictions and Cedar Park could not procure comparable replacement coverage. This is sufficient to state an injury in fact that is fairly traceable to SB 6219.”

Padden pointed out that renewed legal action in the case also calls into question the constitutionality of the law created by House Bill 1009. That measure, which went into effect on July 25, requires Washington state colleges and universities to cover abortions in student health plans.

“It’s just another unconstitutional measure to force insurance providers to cover abortions regardless of the religious, social or other objections of institutions and individuals,” said Padden.

“Just like the state abortion mandate, the law created by HB 1009 violates the religious liberty of Washingtonians and should be challenged. These mandates are a fundamental assault on the American constitutional principle that the state shall not require adherence to a religion or prohibit the free exercise thereof.”