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Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Michelle Ruiz

Michelle Ruiz Contributor
AOL News
(June 14) -- The Church of Scientology is denying allegations levied by dozens of former members of its highest order, the Sea Org, who say the church forced them to have abortions because having children would interfere with their religious mission.

An in-depth report by the St. Petersburg Times cites several women who have filed federal lawsuits against the church, claiming they were ordered to abort their children as teenagers and young women or be shunned by the church, facing hard labor or alienation from their husbands.

"The policy was if a staff member became pregnant, that they were to have an abortion," former Sea Org member Claire Headley, 35, told the newspaper.

After joining the Los Angeles branch of the Sea Org in 1991 at age 16 and marrying a fellow member the following year, Headley said Scientology leaders forced her to abort two pregnancies at age 19 and 21. She said she felt she "had no choice," adding that the only two women she saw remain pregnant in the Sea Org were ordered to hard labor, with one digging ditches while pregnant.

Though Scientology's founder, L. Ron Hubbard, wrote of his support of families in the Sea Org, a new rule banning children in the church's administrative order was enacted in 1996, under new leader David Miscavige. The church maintained that the rule protected the church mission and children as well, saying that children interfered with the productivity of Sea Org members and that the rigor of Sea Org life not is conducive to raising families.

Despite the rule, Church of Scientology spokesman Tommy Davis denied any allegations that the church pressured young women to undergo abortions, saying women who choose to become pregnant are asked to leave the Sea Org but compensated during their transition.

"There is no church policy to convince anyone to have an abortion, and the church has never engaged in such activity," Davis told the Times. "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," he said.

Laura Dieckman, 31, alleges otherwise in a federal lawsuit filed against the Church of Scientology. She joined the Sea Org in 1991 at age 12 and married fellow member Jesse DeCrescenzo four years later. In 1996, she said, she was pressed into aborting her pregnancy, a decision her then-husband supported.

"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 told the Times.

In emotional video on the paper's website, a tearful Dieckman, who left the church in 2004, recalls instantly regretting the abortion.

"They will do an ultrasound before the procedure so you see the heartbeat. ... I'm lying there ... and I was like, 'No,'" she said. "But it's too late. I'd already done it."

The church flatly denies Dieckman's allegations.

"Ms. Dieckman made her own choices,'' Davis told the Times, saying she aborted the pregnancy "following discussion with her husband, who told her he was not ready to have children.''

In sworn depositions obtained by the St. Petersburg Times, other Sea Org witnesses like Sunny Pereira say they too were bullied into abortions they did not want.

"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," Pereira told the Times.

Davis said the women involved in the lawsuits are accusing the church because of decisions the women now "appear to regret."

Kathryn Reeves, a former Sea Org member who left the order in 2009 with her husband and baby daughter, said the Sea Org supported her decision to start a family.

"I received lots of care and support from the staff and at no time was I made to feel guilty for wanting to have a child,'' Reeves told the Times. "My pregnancy was very calm, very sane and completely free of upset."
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