Coerced abortion inside the Church of Scientology

In an incredibly disturbing report the St. Petersburg Times presents the stories of three women among many who say they were coerced into having abortions while they were part of the Sea Organization, Scientology’s religious order.
Laura Dieckman, Claire Headley, and Sunny Pereira all came from Scientology families and entered the Sea Org at 12, 16, and 15 respectively. They were married to other Sea Org members and were all in their teens when they got pregnant. Sea Org members are not allowed to have children, which is seen as distracting from their important work, and must leave the order if they want to carry their pregnancies to term. Dieckman, Headley, and Pereira all outline pressure put on them to have abortions. And of course the pressure of losing one’s community cannot be overstated – as oppressive as such an environment must be, to lose one’s whole world is a terrifying thing and a powerful tool for coercion.
Sadly, other women have reported similar experiences:

A St. Petersburg Times investigation found their experiences were not unique. More than a dozen women said the culture in the Sea Org pushed them or women they knew to have abortions, in many cases, abortions they did not want.

Headley is bringing a lawsuit against the church and has submitted a list of 36 women she says had abortions while working for Sea Org. Women who refused abortions were reportedly assigned manual labor and underwent interrogation and isolation.
A spokesman for the Church of Scientology denied all accusations of coercion.
Abortion should always be an available option, but how someone acts on their own pregnancy must be their decision. To coerce someone to have an abortion, to take away that decision, is the very definition of anti-choice.
This short video was included with the original story:

Transcript after the jump.


The Church of Scientology has not allowed Sea Org members to have children since 1996. Church spokesman Tommy Davis explained that having children is viewed as interfering with productivity and the rigor of Sea Org life is not conducive to raising children.
Sunny Pereira, Claire Headley, and Laura Dieckman all entered Scientology’s isolated environment as children. All three came from Scientology families. Dieckman started working full timefor the Sea Org when she was just 12 years old. Peirera started at 15, Headley at 16. Because of the Sea Org’s work demands the three had few real world experiences during their teenage years and as young adults. One by one the women became pregnant and all did the same thing, thinking they had no other choice.
Pereira: 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 tiny speck of nuisance that’s growing inside you and make it seem so unimportant.
Dieckman: I was pounded for two days by the top person in my organization, the commanding officer, about how the baby wasn’t a baby, it was just tissue, it wouldn’t matter if I aborted the baby.
Headley: The policy was that if a staff member became pregnant they were to have an abortion. And there was two instances in the entire time when I was there when I saw a woman try and go against that. And in those cases the women were on heavy labor, washing dishes day and night, the other one was digging ditches while pregnant.
The Church never pressured or influenced any Sea Org member to have an abortion said church spokesman Tommy Davis. In a letter to the Times he said, “There is no Church policy to convince anyone to have an abortion and the Church has never engaged in such activity.” Sea Org members wanting children must leave the organization, he said, but are treated with compassion and supported financially in their transition. The women speaking to the Times are blaming the Church, he said, for choices they made they now appear to regret.
Headley: I didn’t have a choice. If I had said I’m not gonna do this I would have been separated from my husband. The possibilities were endless, I knew I would have had serious punishments levied, I would have been on manual labor, I was concerned for what would happen to my child, so I did not have a choice.
Peirera: I don’t think I really decided to do it. I mean I knew what was going to happen if I didn’t, so it was just easier to just cooperate. It was a mechanical decision, it was not a heartfelt decision, it wasn’t an emotional decision, it was like OK, well we’re going to have to.
Dieckman: They do an ultrasound before the procedure so you see the heartbeat. And I go in and the last thing I remember is I’m lying there, they gave me the drug to knock me out, and I was like, no, but it’s too late, I’d already done it.
Headley: It’s just criminal to make someone go through with that. And my lawsuit specifically asks for an injunction that makes it illegal for them to require female employees to go through with abortions.

Boston, MA

Jos Truitt is Executive Director of Development at Feministing. She joined the team in July 2009, became an Editor in August 2011, and Executive Director in September 2013. She writes about a range of topics including transgender issues, abortion access, and media representation. Jos first got involved with organizing when she led a walk out against the Iraq war at her high school, the Boston Arts Academy. She was introduced to the reproductive justice movement while at Hampshire College, where she organized the Civil Liberties and Public Policy Program’s annual reproductive justice conference. She has worked on the National Abortion Federation’s hotline, was a Field Organizer at Choice USA, and has volunteered as a Pro-Choice Clinic Escort. Jos has written for publications including The Guardian, Bilerico, RH Reality Check, Metro Weekly, and the Columbia Journalism Review. She has spoken and trained at numerous national conferences and college campuses about trans issues, reproductive justice, blogging, feminism, and grassroots organizing. Jos completed her MFA in Printmaking at the San Francisco Art Institute in Spring 2013. In her "spare time" she likes to bake and work on projects about mermaids.

Jos Truitt is an Executive Director of Feministing in charge of Development.

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  • dawn_of_the_bread

    Can I just say that Feministing’s continual use of “after the jump” really doesn’t make sense to me. There’s no jump, I’m not clicking through a link, there’s no advertising breaking up the page, and the warning isn’t even coming before the embedded video.
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    I don’t know where you’re getting to the article from, but both the main page, and the rss feed (where I read from) have the “after the jump” sentence as a link to click through to the rest of the story.

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  • bumblebecky

    No one should be forced to get an abortion…just like no one should be forced to not get an abortion.