The Church Challenging Washington State’s One-Size-Fits-All Abortion Requirement
Signs at the March for Life rally in Washington, D.C., in 2017. (Aaron P. Bernstein/Reuters)
The family-led Cedar Park Church offers maternity care and other faith-based services, but state law requires it to cover abortion procedures, too.
In Washington State, it is not enough that women have nearly unlimited access to legal abortion. Last year, the state took things a step further, enacting S.B. 6219, which requires all health plans that cover maternity care to cover abortion procedures, too.
This is a problem for Jay and Sandy Smith, who lead Cedar Park Church in Kirkland, Wash., a Christian church in the Assemblies of God denomination. “We have a deeply held view, as informed by the Scriptures, that life is a gift from God,” Jay tells National Review in an interview. “Any means by which we’re asked to or compelled to or forced to participate in ending life, we see it as in opposition to the Scripture.”
The Alliance Defending Freedom filed a lawsuit on behalf of Cedar Park Church this spring in federal court, challenging the statute as unconstitutional on religious-freedom grounds. S.B. 6219 doesn’t grant any religious or conscience exemptions to the abortion-coverage requirement, although it offers 13 other types of exemptions.
Some abortion-rights supporters insist that if the church merely declined to offer coverage for maternity care, Washington’s law no longer would compel them to cover abortion — an easy way out. But Jay dismisses this argument as “ridiculous,” saying that to drop maternity overage would contradict the church’s fundamental pro-life ethic.
“We want to have our staff members, our teachers, our pastors have their own families, and we want to be able to support that,” he explains. “So really, that’s not a reasonable choice.”
Meanwhile, because of the number of people Cedar Park Church employs, a failure to offer maternity coverage would place the church in violation of federal requirements. Washington’s law, then, puts these religious believers in an impossible position.
Oftentimes, abortion opponents are accused of being “pro-life until birth,” promptly forgetting their supposed care for mothers and children as soon as a woman is no longer pregnant. Yet Cedar Park Church runs programs for single mothers and women facing crisis pregnancies, as well as mentoring groups for foster families and prospective foster parents. These are fairly typical pro-life Christian ministries, but some of its other programs might be a bit more surprising. For instance, the church offers an embryo-adoption service, connecting couples who wish to adopt with couples who have used in vitro fertilization and have left embryos in cold storage.
For more than three decades, they’ve held an annual service to pray for infertile couples, and over the years more than a thousand children have been born to those families. “Some of the families have been not people of faith, but people for whom faith is like the last stop on the railroad of hope,” Jay explains. “We’ve prayed for families of other faiths, of no faith, and seen miracles take place. That’s an expression of being pro-life.”
Cedar Park Church operates a school with several campuses and a total of about 1600 students, as well as a summer camp for children in the foster-care system. “Students from our school actually participate in fundraising to help pay for these foster kids to be able to attend this camp for free,” Sandy says.
Perhaps surprisingly, the church operates a funeral home, an affirmation of the value of life at its natural end. Within the mausoleum, there is a crypt for families who have lost an infant or had a stillborn child, to entomb their children at no cost. It is available to people regardless of whether they belong to the church and regardless of whether they hold any particular faith.
“Everything we do, I think, is pro-life,” Jay says. “As a function of that, we are opposed to being participant in abortion. That happens to be a part of it.”
For Jay and Sandy, the pro-life spirit at the heart of their church — and their fundamental opposition to abortion — is not only a matter of their Christian faith. It’s also deeply personal. Just when they were preparing to head off to college, Sandy discovered she was unexpectedly pregnant.
“I thought, ‘I could just have an abortion, and I could forget about this, and no one would know,’” Sandy says. “I wouldn’t have to walk through the shame or the embarrassment. I’d be able to pick up my life where I left off.”
But immediately, she recalled a service at her church where women who’d had abortions came to speak about their regret. “I will never forget that,” she says. “I can picture their faces even right now . . . It had been two decades, three decades since they’d had abortions, but they were still crying. I remember so much pain on their faces. As soon as I thought of abortion, that image went through my mind, and I knew that wasn’t a path I could take.”
After receiving more support from their families and church than they had expected, Sandy decided to keep her baby, and she and Jay got married within a month of finding out she was expecting.
“Our culture tells us that if you carry this baby and try to raise it, you’ll be in poverty,” Sandy adds. “You’ll never be able to get your college degree. You’ll never make anything in life.”
The Smiths believe their story contradicts that narrative. They’ve been married 23 years this summer and have four daughters, the oldest of whom got married last month. “Clearly looking at our daughter now, and looking at our family, you can see that it was the right choice,” Jay says. “But you don’t know that at the beginning. You just know that you’re scared out of your ever-loving mind.”
“It was such a bookend, just to see if I looked back 22 years, I would never have imagined that God could do that,” Sandy says. “Not only was society wrong — they were dead wrong.”