Women reveal accounts of forced abortion in Scientology

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Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Scientology is facing renewed criticism, due to an extensive exposé in the Florida newspaper the St. Petersburg Times which contains revealing accounts of women involved in the organization who say they were forced to have abortions. Multiple different female members of the Scientology group called the Sea Org said they were pressured to have abortions, and were threatened with separation from their families, hard labor, interrogations, and shunning, if they did not comply.

A protester holds a sign which reads: "C[hurch] o[f] S[cientology] forces its female members to get abortions"
(February 10, 2008)
Image: Martin Poulter.

Women that came forward to the St. Petersburg Times said that those who did not wish to undergo an abortion were shunned by others within the Sea Org group, and were labeled as "out ethics" and "degraded beings". The Sea Org consists of 6,000 members of Scientology, who sign billion-year contracts to work for the organization for multiple lifetimes. Joining the Sea Org is considered a high calling within Scientology.

L. Ron Hubbard, the founder of Scientology, stated his appreciation for families within the Sea Org. Scientology's subsequent leader, David Miscavige, issued an order that children were to be banned in the Sea Org. The mandate by Miscavige asserted that children hampered the productivity of the Scientology order.

Cquote1.svg There is no church policy to convince anyone to have an abortion, and the church has never engaged in such activity. Cquote2.svg

Tommy Davis, Scientology spokesman

Scientology representative, Tommy Davis denied all of the assertions made by the women. "There is no church policy to convince anyone to have an abortion, and the church has never engaged in such activity. The decision to have a child or terminate a pregnancy is a personal decision made by a couple. That applies to all Scientologists. If any current or former Sea Org member ever 'pressured' someone to have an abortion, they did so independently, and that action was not approved, endorsed or advocated by the church," stated Davis to the St. Petersburg Times.

Another woman is suing the Scientology organization in United States federal court, and stated she was threatened with severe repercussions if she did not have an abortion. Claire Headley, 35, a member of the Sea Org when she was in Scientology, told the St. Petersburg Times, "The policy was if a staff member became pregnant, that they were to have an abortion."

In 1991, Headley became a member of the Sea Org at age sixteen, and began work with the division of the organization in Los Angeles, California. She married at age seventeen, while a member of the organization. Headley said that officials within Scientology leadership pressured her to have two abortions: one at age nineteen, and another at age 21. Headley believed she had "no choice", as she had witnessed other women that refused to have abortions instructed to perform manual labor, with one pregnant woman ordered to dig ditches. Headley said that during pressure to have her second abortion she was forbidden to phone her husband to discuss the decision. She spent a total of thirteen years in the Sea Org.

Cquote1.svg The policy was if a staff member became pregnant, that they were to have an abortion. Cquote2.svg

—Claire Headley

Laura Dieckman, 31, said that she was enthusiastic about beginning a family when she became pregnant within Scientology at age seventeen, but was instructed to have an abortion. In a federal lawsuit against Scientology, Dieckman stated she joined with the Sea Org at the age of twelve, and at age sixteen she married another member of the group, Jesse DeCrescenzo. She said she was pressured to have an abortion in 1996.

Dieckman said to the St. Petersburg Times: "I was pounded for two days by the top person in my organization ... about how the baby wasn't a baby yet, it was just tissue and it wouldn't matter if I aborted the baby." Dieckman left Scientology in 2004. In a video posted to the website of the St. Petersburg Times, Dieckman emotionally recounted how she had immediately regretted going through with the procedure, "They will do an ultrasound before the procedure so you see the heartbeat. ... I'm lying there ... and I was like, 'No.' But it's too late. I'd already done it."

Natalie Hagemo said that 20 years ago at age nineteen, she was pressured by Scientology officials to have an abortion, but she resisted. Hagemo gave birth to Shelby on August 20, 1990. Hagemo's daughter was recruited into the Sea Org at age 14. Shelby contacted her mother a week later wanting to leave the Sea Org; Hagemo had a difficult time getting Shelby out of the group. It was not until this year that Hagemo told her daughter about experiencing pressure from Scientology officials to have an abortion.

The St. Petersburg Times received sworn depositions from additional women including Sunny Pereira, who said they were intimidated into having abortions they did not wish to undergo. "They put you in this position where you're weighing the lives of all these people you're supposed to be saving against this one little tiny speck of nuisance that's growing inside of you," said Pereira. Spokesman Tommy Davis stated the women were accusing Scientology of forced abortions because of choices they now "appear to regret".

In Nevada, Republican party candidate for the United States Senate, Sharron Angle, was the focus of criticism for her support of a Scientology-associated program. Angle's opponent, incumbent Senator and Senate Majority Leader Democrat Harry Reid, took out a 30-second negative political ad critical of Angle for supporting "a Scientology plan to give massages to prisoners". The prison program Angle had supported was based on techniques developed by Scientology founder, L. Ron Hubbard. Angle had previously been the subject of a similar ad in the Republican primary, generated by the campaign of her opponent Sue Lowden. Sharron Angle is pro-life, and The New York Times columnist Ramesh Ponnuru noted her position against abortion helped her win the Republican primary. "Angle would not have been able to unite populist conservatives and beat the party establishment’s candidate had she been pro-choice," noted Ponnuru.


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