Laura Dieckman was just 12 when her parents let her leave home to work full time for Scientology‘s religious order, the Sea Organization. At 16, she married a co-worker. At 17, she was pregnant.
She was excited to start a family, but she said Sea Org supervisors pressured her to have an abortion. She was back at work the following day.
Claire Headley joined at 16, married at 17 and was pregnant at 19. She said Sea Org supervisors threatened strenuous physical work and repeated interrogations if she didn’t end her pregnancy. She, too, was back at work the next day.
Two years later she had a second abortion, this time while working for the church in Clearwater.
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.
Some said colleagues and supervisors pressured them to abort their pregnancies and remain productive workers without the distraction of raising children. Terminating a pregnancy and staying on the job affirmed one’s commitment to the all-important work of saving the planet.
“You just have a way of thinking,” said Sunny Pereira, who was 15 when she entered the order. ”It all has to do with the Sea Org and what we’re trying to accomplish. Everything that is a distraction is scorned.”
According to those speaking out, women who didn’t schedule abortions were shunned by fellow Sea Org members, called “degraded beings” and taunted for being “out ethics,” straying from the order’s ethical code.
Some were isolated, assigned manual labor and interrogated until they agreed to abortions, said church defectors, including men whose wives got abortions.
The church denied all their accounts.
But in sworn depositions obtained by the Times, Headley and Dieckman recount, conversation by conversation, how Sea Org members influenced them to end their pregnancies.
The depositions were taken in a federal lawsuit Headley filed against the church. She claims her abortions were forced and the church’s restrictive working conditions constituted human trafficking. She has a January trial date. She has submitted to church lawyers a list of 36 current and former staffers she said had abortions while working for the Sea Org.
The Headley Lawsuits
Former Scientologists Claire and Marc Headley are suing the Church of Scientology in separate actions in federal court in Los Angeles.
Marc Headley, 37, alleges he was the victim of unfair business practices, labor law violations and forced labor, or human trafficking, during his 15 years in the church’s Sea Organization.
Claire Headley, 35, alleges the church forced her to have two abortions during her 13 years in the Sea Org. She also claims working conditions at the church’s international management base near Hemet, Calif., constituted human trafficking.
Church lawyers have fought both actions aggressively, deposing the Headleys and other former Sea Org members and filing thousands of pages of motions, memoranda and arguments.
Filed in January 2009, the cases are scheduled for trial in January 2011.
This article is part of the St. Petersburg Times‘ ongoing series of investigative reports on Scientology.
Joe Childs is Managing Editor/Tampa Bay. He has supervised the Times’ coverage of Scientology since 1993. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thomas C. Tobin is a Times staff writer who has covered the Church of Scientology off and on since 1996. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Prior Times coverage started in 1975, when the church first came to Clearwater, through last year’s investigative reports, “The Truth Rundown,” an examination of life inside Scientology, including former executives who said they were physically abused by church leader David Miscavige.
The Truth Rundown — The St. Petersburg Times’ series of special reports on the Scientology cult includes additional articles, prior coverage and video reports
What you should know about Scientology — Apologetics Index’s consumer alert
Cult FAQ — Frequently Asked Questions about Cults