Among the beliefs listed in the "Creed of the Church of Scientology": "All men have inalienable rights … to the creation of their own kind" and "no agency less than God has the power to suspend or set aside these rights, overtly or covertly." Yet a very different picture emerges from women who became pregnant while working for the church. They relate painful stories of intimidation, shaming, shunning or outright coercion by the church until women agreed to abortions or were forced out. It is yet another example where the church's cultivated image does not match reality.
The public image of the Church of Scientology is family-friendly. But inside the organization's 6,000-member work force called the Sea Org, young women who became pregnant faced a barrage of tactics clearly designed to weaken their resistance to abortion. These women were victims, swayed by an organization that already controlled their lives and in effect denied them free will to make their own decisions about their pregnancies.
In reports Sunday and Monday, St. Petersburg Times staff writers Joe Childs and Thomas C. Tobin told the stories of women who said they as well as other women they knew were pressured to have abortions while working for the Sea Org. Those workers toil long hours for little pay and are subjected to punishments if they are not productive or try to leave.
In some cases the women joined the Sea Org while still children themselves, recruited by the church and lured into signing billion-year contracts. Separated from their parents and often married as teenagers, they naturally wanted to start their own families.
Laura Dieckman joined the Sea Org at 12, married at 16 and was pregnant at 17. But her disapproving supervisors pressured her to end the pregnancy, she said. Claire Headley joined the Sea Org at 16, married at 17 and was pregnant at 19. She felt pressured enough to have two abortions while a Sea Org member. Sunny Pereira, who joined the Sea Org at 15 and married at 21, also had two abortions.
The prospect of motherhood should have been a joyful time for them, but instead it became a grueling test of loyalty. Continuing their pregnancies, they were told, was an unacceptable distraction from the church's mission to "save the planet." Ending the pregnancies would prove their loyalty to the church and keep them in the fold. Women who continued their pregnancies were taunted or shunned by other Sea Org members, isolated from their husbands or assigned to long hours of manual labor, the women said.
Church spokesman Tommy Davis denied all of the allegations by the women. Yet the church acknowledges that children are discouraged because they get in the way of the group's work. Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard, who wrote the Scientology creed, was a father of six. After he died in 1986 and David Miscavige, who has no children, assumed the top spot, Sea Org members who wanted to have children were shunted off to work at small, unproductive Scientology churches where they could not earn a livable wage. In 1996, Sea Org members were banned from having children. Those who became pregnant were forced to leave.
Davis told the Times that the policy that now prohibits having children "evolved out of respect for families and deference to children." That's the height of hypocrisy, coming from an organization that recruits children into its labor force, requires them to sign billion-year contracts, separates them from their families and subjects them to 18-hour workdays.
No woman should be coerced into making this painful decision, which only she can make — even by powerful bosses inside a church. The stories of pregnancies terminated by vulnerable young women under considerable pressure are one more fracture in the polished facade of the Church of Scientology.