No kids allowed
Women in scientology's religious order say they were pressured to have abortions "for the greatest good.''
By Joe Childs and Thomas C. Tobin | Times Staff Writers
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.
"There is no church policy to convince anyone to have an abortion, and the church has never engaged in such activity,'' said church spokesman Tommy Davis.
Sea Org members marry one another and take no vows of celibacy, as do members of other religious orders. And unlike many religions, Scientology takes no position for or against abortion.
"The decision to have a child or terminate a pregnancy is a personal decision made by a couple,'' Davis said. "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.''
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.
Dieckman, 31, was deposed as a witness. She told the Times she's not the weepy type. But she couldn't hold her tears as she talked about how, at 17, she put the greater good of the group ahead of her maternal instinct.
"Now I look at it and I'm like, how or why could I possibly think that? It doesn't make sense. I don't understand how I relented, or why I gave in. But I did.''
The church responds
Within the Sea Org, Scientology's highest calling, members were allowed to have children until 1996, when the policy changed to what it remains today: No children allowed.
"The policy evolved out of respect for families and deference to children,'' Davis said.
Babies were "viewed as interfering with the productivity of Sea Org members,'' Davis said. Also, "the long and demanding working hours required of Sea Org members and the need for Sea Org parents to be able to go to any remote area of the world on a moment's notice were obstacles to parents properly raising their children.''
Davis denied pregnant Sea Org couples were shunned or called "degraded beings.''
To the contrary, those wanting children are helped, Davis said. "They receive assistance from the church, including immediate prenatal care, medical care, financial assistance and even help in finding housing and employment upon departure from the Sea Org.''
The Times asked to interview church officials, including church leader David Miscavige, about the accounts of former Sea Org members who described the pressures to have abortions.
Davis responded in writing. He also provided the sworn declarations of 10 former and one current Sea Org member who said the church and their colleagues comforted and supported them during their pregnancies, allowing naps, giving gifts and creating flexible work schedules.
"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,'' said Kathryn Reeves, who left the Sea Org in 2009 with her husband and has a baby daughter she said has a cheerful disposition.
"I am sure that part of her being so happy is that my pregnancy was very calm, very sane, and completely free of upset,'' Reeves said in her declaration.
Davis said the women speaking out to the Times made personal choices "they now clearly regret.''
Kids were welcome
Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard created the Sea Org in 1967 while running his church aboard ships, hence the maritime ranks and uniforms. Members sign billion-year contracts, symbolizing a commitment to serve in this life and coming ones.
Some 6,000 Sea Org members run Scientology operations worldwide. Miscavige, 50, and his wife, Shelly, 49, are members. They have no children.
About 150 others are executives, including spokesman Davis. Most of the rest work in the trenches, in jobs from doorman and bus driver to the church's top spiritual counselors, called "auditors.''
They display military bearing, come to attention when a ranking officer enters and refer to superiors, including women, as "Sir.''
The Sea Org staffs the church's two most important operations, its spiritual headquarters in Clearwater and its 500-acre international management base in the desert 80 miles east of Los Angeles.
For seven years before Gary Morehead left the Sea Org, he was security chief at the sprawling compound. He said pregnancies were considered "a slap in the face'' to the organization.
"There was no plus side to it whatsoever. Never did anyone go, 'Congratulations.'
"You're taking a beautiful time in a person's life and you're making it into a complete, utter crime.''
Hubbard, in his 1950 bestseller, Dianetics, extolled the virtues of motherhood: "A woman who is pregnant should be given every consideration by a society which has any feeling for its future generations.''
Hubbard, who had six children, specified that Sea Org routine include "Family Time,'' at least an hour a day with one's children. There was an annual "Family Day'' picnic. While parents worked, took classes and received spiritual counseling, their kids went to Cadet Orgs, nurseries and classrooms staffed by Sea Org colleagues.
After Hubbard died in 1986 and Miscavige emerged as church leader, a new Sea Org policy said pregnant couples would be suspended from the order and assigned to live on their own and work at a community church, called a Class 5 Org.
That was scary for those accustomed to the group providing food, housing, clothing and medical care, the defectors said. Working with non-Sea Org staff at a community church, they would support themselves and their newborn on a portion of whatever their local church took in.
Church management canceled Family Day in 1987 and Family Time two years later. A 1991 policy change said pregnant couples would be transferred not just to any community church but to one that was "nonexpanding, small, distant.''
Today's ban on children in the Sea Org, issued in 1996, makes no mention of abortion. It says members wanting children must leave.
Davis said the church changed its policy as it tried to balance "the needs of families with the realities of life within a religious order.''
The church pays for the medical and dental expenses for Sea Org members but did not pay for the abortions of the women speaking to the Times.
Davis responded: "For the church to mandate payment for abortions . . . would be tantamount to a tacit endorsement of abortion.''
He said some Scientology churches, including the one in Clearwater, do pay for birth control for Sea Org members.
A full court press
Laura Dieckman was a fifth-grader when she told her parents she wasn't learning as much in Albuquerque public schools as she had in Scientology schools. They let her stop going.
She hung out at the community church, or "org,'' where her parents were parishioners. Laura "body routed,'' waving a sign out front: Free Personality Tests.
A Sea Org recruiter came through early in 1991. Laura was 12 and gung ho about the idea of joining and living in L.A. Her mother, Toddy Dieckman, needed convincing.
The recruiter promised Laura would complete high school. Her Scientology courses and counseling, called "auditing,'' would be free. The recruiter said that being so young, Laura would be watched closely.
The question of children came up. Laura said she wanted to be a mother some day. No problem, the recruiter said, pregnant couples are transferred to community churches.
Mrs. Dieckman let her daughter go. "I kind of looked at it like, Okay, she's going to go to a school with a Scientology twist, really, and get a good education.'' Plus she couldn't picture her daughter sticking it out. "I didn't think she'd want to be away from home.''
Laura's first job was in a 12-story church building a few blocks down Hollywood Boulevard from Grauman's Chinese Theater. She worked in the communications office, delivering messages and answering phones.
Her life ran on a restricted loop: take a church bus to the office each morning, work into the night, bus back to the dorm, bunk with eight to 10 women. There were no outings to zoos, roller rinks or concerts, nor did she get the schooling the recruiter promised.
Laura called home every night the first several weeks. On her dinner break, she would hustle a few doors down Hollywood Boulevard to the pay phone at Chicken Delight.
Her parents visited occasionally and took her to Disneyland once.
A few weeks after turning 16, Laura met new Sea Org member Jesse DeCrescenzo who, like Laura, was raised in a Scientology family. He was 17. They flirted at Saturday afternoon classes and did laundry together on Saturday nights.
At a New Year's Eve party in her office building, they counted down the final seconds of 1994. At the stroke of midnight, Jesse proposed. They married that August.
That Christmas season they visited Jesse's extended family in Oakland. Laura loved the warm family feeling. Wanting children of her own and without telling Jesse, she stopped taking the birth control pills she had gotten for free from a Planned Parenthood clinic.
Laura knew that if she got pregnant, neither her boss nor Jesse's would be pleased about them having to leave their posts. She had seen Sea Org members harass a pregnant couple prior to their transfers.
Still, she was confident she, Jesse and their baby could make it. Maybe they would even be sent to the Albuquerque org.
In February 1996 a pregnancy test confirmed what her body told her. Back at her desk, she called Jesse with the news.
He freaked, Laura said. He asked: What are we going to do?
"I told him I was planning on having it.''
They discussed the rumor that the church was about to eliminate transfers to community churches and require that pregnant couples leave the Sea Org.
Laura told Jesse not to worry. His dad might hire him to work at his insurance office in L.A. Or maybe he could work for her dad, cleaning windows in Albuquerque.
She reported her pregnancy to her boss, Gabriella Saccomanno, who was in her 30s, nearly twice Laura's age. Laura considered her "the closest thing to a mom I had in the Sea Org.''
Testifying in her deposition, Laura Dieckman described what happened over the next two days. "I told her that I was pregnant. She said, 'What do you want to do?'
"I said, 'There's no question in my mind, I'm going to have the baby.' ''
She said Saccamanno told her to consider a Scientology tenet in dealing with problems: Evaluate what would be the "greatest good for the greatest number of dynamics.''
Scientologists believe life consists of eight dynamics, or channels, and humans are driven to thrive in each of them. The first dynamic is to survive as one's self. The second, survive as a couple, through procreation. Having a child serves those two dynamics.
But if that means leaving the Sea Org, you put your own interests ahead of broader dynamics, such as the group, service to mankind and all life forms.
Saccomanno asked about Jesse. What did he want to do?
Laura said she answered: "We're going to have the baby. There is no question about it.''
Saccomanno suggested the two of them get on the phone with Jesse and his supervisor, Christine Cole.
Through the speaker phone, Cole addressed Laura. "She was getting mad that I was saying that I was going to keep the baby, and she was telling me, Look at the effect that's going to have to the organization . . .''
She and Jesse had risen through the ranks to jobs as directors of Investigations and Evaluations, akin to police department internal affairs investigators. Cole reminded her of their responsibilities to the organization.
Laura hung up. "I was not interested in hearing such bulls--.''
She said Saccomanno tried to calm her. "(She) just was like, 'Chill, Laura . . . the baby is just tissue at this point.' . . . She's basically saying that an abortion is the right thing to do and that it wouldn't be that big of a deal because it's not that far along yet.''
That night she and Jesse talked about conquering their new challenge together. "We kind of came to the conclusion that we were going to keep the baby,'' she said.
But his tone had changed the next day when they talked by phone. "I could tell Chris had been talking to him more. … So then he's like, 'Maybe the right thing to do is have an abortion.' "
Jesse said he didn't want to leave the Sea Org. Laura faced raising a newborn at 17, with no real world experience, no formal education, no job, no money and now, no husband.
"It became like I didn't have a choice anymore.''
Saccomanno told her again: You're not that far along. Think of the greater good.
She said Jesse told her, "We both have always wanted to be in the Sea Org.''
Saccomanno talked to her again.
"I finally, after two days of this, said okay.''
Jesse borrowed a car and $350 from his parents and drove her to a clinic in Glendale on a Saturday. Laura was back at work Sunday.
The Times asked to interview Saccomanno, Cole and Jesse DeCrescenzo. Davis responded on their behalf, saying "at no time was Dieckman pressured to end her pregnancy.''
Saccomanno never "encouraged or suggested that Ms. Dieckman have an abortion,'' Davis said, and did not describe the fetus as "just tissue.'' Nor did Cole apply pressure.
"Ms. Dieckman made her own choices,'' Davis said. She aborted her pregnancy "following discussion with her husband, who told her he was not ready to have children.''
Dieckman said her disaffection with the church grew with the passing years. She was punished for staying away one day too long when she visited her dying grandfather in Portland, Ore. Months later she ran away to visit her grandmother there, but the L.A. staff found her and coaxed her back.
She was assigned to the Rehabilitation Project Force, a work detail the church says helps Sea Org members reform through physical labor, study and counseling. Critics say the RPF is a degrading form of detention intended to adjust one's thinking.
Dieckman gave it three years and decided she wanted out. She had seen a Sea Org staffer drink bleach and be discharged as a suicide risk. One morning in April 2004, while her 10-member RPF crew cleaned floors, she poured bleach into a Styrofoam coffee cup, left open the restroom door so people could see her and took a swig. She started vomiting.
The next day the Sea Org gave her $500 severance and discharged her.
DeCrescenzo stayed. They divorced the following year.
The church said it offered Jesse and Laura the option of going to a community church, but Dieckman chose abortion.
"It is unfortunate that Ms. Dieckman now regrets her own decision,'' Davis said, "and seeks to place blame on her former faith rather than take responsibility.''
Dieckman sued the church in California state court, alleging co-workers "regularly were ordered'' to have abortions. Her suit said the church forced her to have an abortion by threatening the loss of her job, housing and husband. It also alleged Dieckman was "brainwashed'' and "had no comprehension of her legal rights.''
Davis said: "At no time has any church staff member been 'forced' to obtain an abortion.''
A judge dismissed the suit in March, ruling it was not filed within the statute of limitations.
Dieckman is back in Albuquerque, living with the father of their two children.
"Everything didn't go like I envisioned it,'' she said. "Here I am thinking I'm going to have kids, and then I'm not allowed to. . . .''
"I was so under the control . . . from the age of 12, it had been ingrained in me how to think and how to operate. And I didn't know any other way.''
Watching the perimeter
Fenced and guarded, Scientology's 500-acre desert compound near Hemet, Calif., had an added layer of security - a "Perimeter Council.''
Up to 10 members met weekly in a conference room at Golden Era Productions, the church's audio-visual and marketing division headquartered at the base.
The council's job: share information about base personnel, especially those considered threats to the Sea Org's operations and image.
Heading the council was Gary Morehead, the base securityurity chief from 1990 to 1997. He said the names of pregnant women came up, usually reported as having been successfully "handled,'' an abortion scheduled.
"We either went into the council knowing about it or somebody brought the information into the meeting,'' Morehead said. "The fact that somebody was pregnant.''
Each pregnant woman's divisional representative reported on the status of the pregnancy, Morehead said. "They are getting an abortion or they are not or they haven't made their decision yet.''
He has no records but estimated about one woman a month had an abortion, maybe 15 a year. He said about half of the 700 staff at the base were women.
Morehead said the few women at the base who wanted to continue their pregnancies were separated from husbands. Often they were assigned manual labor and subjected to security checks, a form of interrogation. Some slept in an old frame house; Morehead's security guards stood watch.
He said the physical labor wasn't meant to endanger the pregnancy, it was intended to erode the women's resolve. "I'd be asked, 'What are they doing?' I'd say, 'They're out sweeping sidewalks,' or, 'They're pulling weeds out of flower beds.' ''
If the women held fast, he said he would get new orders: "No, put them on (cleaning) the Dumpster. . . .
"The more they resisted, the more effort was put into trying to break them.''
The church said Morehead is lying. "No interrogation or heavy labor was ever assigned to a pregnant staff member,'' Davis said, not at the base where Morehead worked or at any other Sea Org facility. Nor were pregnant couples separated.
Davis said Morehead also is wrong about the Perimeter Council. Davis said he was "emphatically'' told by those who served on the council at the same time as Morehead that abortion was never discussed.
Other church facilities, including in Clearwater and in Los Angeles, had their own Perimeter Councils.
Sunshine "Sunny'' Pereira sat on one of the L.A. councils. Her devotion to the Sea Org was seeded at age 3, when her mother joined and the family drove from Texas to L.A. Sunny went into a Cadet Org and rarely saw her mother.
She signed her billion-year Sea Org contract at 15. "I was like, 'That's where my mom is, so I guess I'm going there, too.' ''
She coordinated auditing, course work and other services at the church's Celebrity Centre in Hollywood, a religious retreat for notable parishioners. Part of the job included sitting on the Centre's Perimeter Council. Their discussions included disgruntled staff and pregnant women.
"We would list them all out and discuss who was going to handle who individually,'' Pereira said.
"Handle'' meant change their thinking. If a woman said she wanted to keep her baby, a co-worker would pull her aside for a casual conversation: What are your plans?
The handling got more aggressive as needed, with supervisors and ethics officers participating. What's causing this irrational thinking? Where's your commitment, your loyalty?
Couples sometimes were separated to loosen their resolve, Pereira said.
''It's about doubts about being in the Sea Org, doubts about saving people's lives or helping people. It's not about the baby.''
Pereira remembers trying to intimidate a pregnant co-worker.
"I scorned her. I saw her walk by and I'd turn up: What is she doing? She's out ethics. She's stopping lives from being saved by going to do her own thing. She's selfish.''
Repeated conversations played on a member's sense of duty and obligation to the organization. "I can't say straight out, 'Well, they force you to have an abortion,' '' Pereira said.
"But they do everything they can to keep a person in the Sea Org. And if that requires termination of the pregnancy, they will support the person in that decision. And they will also help the person make that decision.''
In March 1996, hundreds of Sea Org staff working in the former Hollywood Guaranty Building were told to gather in the sixth-floor dining hall for an important briefing.
Sea Org policy was changing. If you have a child, no more transfers. You would be "off loaded,'' expelled from the Sea Org. Two representatives from the international base made the trip to Hollywood to explain the change.
Before the briefing, the two met privately with ethics supervisor Astra Woodcraft. She said they told her that while they addressed the group, she was to circulate and write down the names of any staffers showing "bad indicators.'' She was to handle them.
Topping her list was a man who acted especially dismayed. Woodcraft said he told her that he and his wife were counting on having a family and working in a community church. Now that option was gone.
Woodcraft assigned the man and his wife one of Scientology's four lower ethical conditions, a state called "doubt.'' To return to good standing, each had to complete a "doubt formula,'' a multistep program of confession and atonement that would purge them of their plan to have children. They also would elevate the organization's needs ahead of their own.
"I had to get them to agree that if they did get pregnant, they would have an abortion,'' Woodcraft said.
The church denied Woodcraft's account. "Any implication that this was church policy is false,'' Davis said.
Woodcraft said that during the three years she supervised ''ethics handlings,'' only a few of the scores of women working in the 12-story Guaranty building insisted on continuing pregnancies.
"Most women just did it,'' she said. "They found out they were pregnant, they went and had an abortion. That's just what they did. They didn't want to get in trouble.''
Woodcraft joined the Sea Org at 14, married a co-worker at 15 in Las Vegas with her father's consent. Four years later, in early 1998, she'd had enough of long work days and the Sea Org's many demands. She hatched a plan: Get pregnant, hide it until it was too late to abort, insist on keeping the baby, get kicked out.
It worked. She was 4?1/2 months pregnant when the Sea Org discharged her.
"When I was leaving, a senior guy came up to me and said, 'What are you doing?'
"I said, 'I'm routing out.'
"He said, 'Why?'
"I said, 'I'm pregnant.'
"And he said, 'Oh, it's too late for an abortion.' ''
Her daughter was born four months later.
Davis said Woodcraft abandoned her husband and her job. He said the church never pressured her to have an abortion, and the encounter she described when leaving never occurred.
Will you marry me?
Claire Headley's immersion in Scientology also started young, age 4, when her mother joined the Sea Org.
Born in England, Claire was raised in a Cadet Org near London. Her formal schooling ended after her mother married an American and the family moved to L.A. Claire was 13. Sea Org recruiters started pursuing her.
"They would call, come to my house, want me to go there, hours-long meetings of them telling me the world is going to end. You need to do this for the sake of your well-being. Heavy duty stuff when you're a teenager.''
In July 1991, with her parents' approval, she entered the Sea Org. She was 16. Assigned in September to the international base, she helped supervise staff job training sessions at Golden Era Productions.
There she met Marc Headley, another teenager who worked on Golden Era's production lines. They sat together in the staff dining hall a few times. Their first date was May 9, the annual Scientology holiday celebrating Dianetics first going on sale in 1950.
"He asked me that day if I would be his girlfriend,'' Claire said.
Outside her dorm that night, they talked about their feelings "and everything else.''
They married three months later, in August 1992. He was 19, she was 17.
She wanted children but knew that getting pregnant was taboo. In her lawsuit, Claire Headley said she "had witnessed two other employees refuse to have abortions. They were demoted and ordered to perform heavy manual labor for months.''
She said in a May 28 court filing that the church had "an internal policy of coercing and forcing'' Sea Org women to have abortions "to maximize the workload from female employees and avoid child care issues.''
She discovered she was pregnant in summer 1994. In her deposition last November, she testified that the Sea Org didn't pay her $46 weekly allowance for several months that year, and she couldn't afford her birth control pills.
Not true, Davis said. "Per financial records,'' she was paid throughout the year. The church declined to provide those records, saying Headley has them. She said she doesn't.
Headley said she shared her pregnancy test results with two staffers in the medical office, Cynthia Rathbun and Jocelyn Webb. (Cynthia Rathbun is not related to Marty Rathbun, the outspoken former top lieutenant to church leader David Miscavige.)
Headley testified that they told her "that if I didn't go through with abortion, that I would be on heavy manual labor and sec checking, interrogation.''
Davis said Rathbun and Webb "both stated emphatically that no such conversation took place.''
Headley said she and Marc briefly discussed the consequences of resisting.
"I knew that if I said that I wanted to go through with the pregnancy, that I would have been put on heavy manual labor and know that's extremely dangerous in a pregnancy,'' Headley testified.
"We had absolutely no other option.''
She said a higher-ranking staffer told her she herself had an abortion, it was "no big deal'' and not terminating the pregnancy "would be much worse than going through with it.''
Headley also worried the church might not allow Marc to join her if she left. "I basically would be out on the street alone, pregnant, with absolutely no contacts in the world, no finances, no husband … boom - done.''
Resisting and leaving the Sea Org likely would result in the church declaring her a "suppressive person.'' Scientologists, including her mother, father, two sisters and a brother, would be forbidden to contact her.
She said she felt trapped.
Church lawyer Marc Marmaro asked during Headley's deposition: "Did anybody order you to have an abortion?''
"Who ordered you to have an abortion?"
"The first time was Cynthia Rathbun.''
"How far pregnant were you at the time?"
"Possibly six to eight weeks.''
"And what did Cynthia Rathbun tell you?"
"Simply that I was pregnant and - because I had done a test - and that I believe she made a general statement that if I didn't go through with it, that I would be on heavy manual labor and sec checking.''
She agreed to an abortion. The base medical office scheduled her appointment at a clinic in Riverside, Headley said, and Rathbun coached her:
"If they ask you if you want to talk to a psychologist about your decision, say no.''
"If they ask you if you want to discuss it, say no.''
She borrowed $350 from a friend to pay for the procedure. A male Sea Org staffer drove her to the clinic, waited and drove her back.
Marmaro: "Did you consider just not leaving the facility … refusing to go back with the individual who brought you there?"
Headley: "I thought about screaming for somebody to please help me. But I knew that if I did that, I would never see my husband again.''
She reported to work the next morning.
Two years later she was in Clearwater with some two dozen Sea Org members training for jobs in the Religious Technology Center, the church's highest ecclesiastical body. The RTC makes sure Hubbard's religious philosophies are properly administered.
Standing for hours at an afternoon class, Headley fainted. "I got the rush of blood to my ears. I was seeing stars. My knees started to buckle.''
Pregnant again. But this time, she was across the country from her husband.
"I so wanted to talk to Marc, so badly, because I'd already promised myself the first time that I would never, ever go through with that again,'' she said in an interview.
She didn't have a cell phone. She couldn't call from the apartment she shared with 12 women. And without special permission, trainees couldn't use church business phones to call spouses.
Headley filled out the form for permission to make a call.
"Disapproved,'' wrote senior Sea Org member Anne Rathbun. (She is the ex-wife of Marty Rathbun).
Responding on Anne Rathbun's behalf, Davis said Headley is lying. He said it's "preposterous'' to suggest a staffer would be denied the chance to call her husband.
Headley testified that Rathbun told her, "I need to go through with the abortion'' and said she already had arranged for Sea Org staffer Aldona Medina to loan her money to pay for it.
The church did not make Anne Rathbun or Medina available for interviews, but Davis said Medina did not lend Headley money for an abortion. "Ms. Medina does not know anything about Claire Headley having an abortion or, for that matter, of her ever having been pregnant.''
Headley said Medina accompanied her to the abortion clinic.
In an interview, Headley described how she reached her decision, alone. "I don't remember saying, 'I will' or 'I will not.' It was more like the apathetic path of least resistance. I know I never said, 'I want an abortion,' because I did not have the strength to say that. … But, yes, I gave in to the inevitable that was in front of me.''
She said Anne Rathbun read her mail, so she didn't dare write Marc about the abortion.
In September 1996, the church sent Marc to Clearwater for three days to help produce an audio-visual program. Headley arranged for them to share a room in the church's Hacienda Gardens apartment complex on N Saturn Avenue.
Six months had passed since her second abortion, and she still hadn't told Marc she had been pregnant.
"I definitely was torn and upset about the oncoming conversation, but I also knew that if I didn't get my guts up to tell him right then and there, it would be much harder down the road.''
She told him and said she was sorry he was just finding out.
"I told him I tried to call,'' Headley said. "I didn't need to explain to him the situation I was in. He knew I had just been promoted (to the RTC) and now I was under a magnifying glass,'' in no position to make waves.
She returned to Hemet in January 1997, and she and Marc stayed in the Sea Org eight more years. They ran away three weeks apart in January 2005. Marc went first, speeding away on his motorcycle. Claire set up an optometry appointment at Walmart, eluded the church staffer assigned to guard her and jumped into a waiting cab.
Claire and Marc Headley, who have two sons now, each sued the church in federal court in January 2009. His suit also alleges human trafficking and wage and hour violations.
Fourteen years after her second abortion, Headley, 35, still is bothered she had to make such an important decision without talking to her husband.
"That was extremely upsetting. I mean, we're married. That decision (not allowing her to call) - even then, and even in that mind-set - I knew from a position of my own personal integrity that was wrong.''
Pregnant and 'out ethics'
Samantha Domingo lives in England with her three daughters, 16 years removed from the abortion she did not want.
In 1993, working at the Celebrity Centre in Hollywood, she met fellow worker Michael Gomes. She was 26 when they married and pregnant a few months later. Church policy still allowed pregnant couples to go to community churches.
"I thought this was exciting. I have a child. I'm going to go off with my husband and pioneer in a Class 5 Org. It's a whole new adventure.''
An ethics officer gave her a reality check:
What are you going to do about this?
You're pulling two staffers out of the organization.
You need to think of the greatest good for the greatest number of dynamics.
"Nobody would ever tell you, 'You have to do it,' '' Domingo said. "You get backed into a corner. . . . You're sitting in front of an ethics officer, you're sitting in front of (church) executives that are basically telling you you're a piece of s-- if you don't do this. You're bad. You let the group down.
"You're out ethics, you did it deliberately. Look at what a bad thing you did to the planet.''
Samantha said one of Michael's superiors convinced him that she got pregnant so he would have to leave the Sea Org with her.
She knew her marriage was over.
She had no savings and was about to have no husband. "I was entirely on my own.''
She told her ethics officer she would have the abortion. "He was very happy and very pleased.''
The church denied her account. "Ms. Domingo's former husband . . . has stated that Ms. Domingo was never forced into making a decision regarding her pregnancy,'' Davis said.
Domingo, now 43, said she felt out of step. "Basically, I felt like I was the only one that thought there was something wrong with the abortion. So I ended up thinking I was out ethics, that I was not being a good Sea Org member and letting the group down.''
A couple of months after her abortion in 1994, a Celebrity Centre staffer quietly approached her.
It was Sunny Pereira, the Perimeter Council member who helped deal with pregnant staffers. Now she was the one pregnant, looking for an abortion clinic.
She was 21, newly married to one of her first boyfriends, Sea Org member Christophe Pereira.
Sunny had told him days earlier that she was pregnant. They talked about leaving the Sea Org to work in a community church. She wondered what it cost to have a baby. Do you just show up at an ER?
Following protocol, they reported the pregnancy to Sea Org ethics officers, who Sunny said gave them one option: If she stayed pregnant, she and Christophe would be transferred to the struggling Celebrity Centre in Nashville. With so few parishioners there, they knew they would be broke and couldn't afford to ever see Cristophe's family in France.
"We discussed it and decided going through with keeping a child was not going to work for either one of us or for the Sea Org and it was better for us if we just terminated it,'' she said.
"It was a mechanical decision. It was not a heartfelt decision. It wasn't an emotional decision. It was like, 'Okay, well, we're going to have to.' "
The church had no comment about Pereira, now 37, who had her first child, a daughter, June 1.
"Her decision was a personal matter,'' Davis said, "and would have been between her and her husband.''
Pereira would have a second abortion in 2001.
For her abortion in 1994, she said she borrowed $330 from her grandmother. She remembers that as the anesthesia was administered, the doctor studied her chart. She had written "Scientologist'' in the box, marked Optional, for religious affiliation.
"He said there was another Scientologist in the next room.''
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.
Sea Org: Joined at age 12, in 1991. Left in 2004
Married: at age 16
Abortion: in 1996
Today: Lives in Albuquerque with father of their 3-year-old daughter and 2-year-old son. She is a stay-at-home mom.
"It became like I didn't have a choice anymore. I didn't know how extensive the pressure or coercion would be. I knew there were people who had gotten abortions. But I didn't know how much pressure there was. I hadn't seen it first hand, at that point.''
Sea Org: Joined at age 16, in 1991; left in 2005.
Married: at age 17.
Abortions: in 1994 and 1996.
Today: Married to Marc Headley, sons 4 and 2. Lives in Burbank, Calif. Works as bookkeeper at the audio-visual design firm her husband co-owns.
"I was desperate to not have to go through with (an abortion) somehow, some way, but I did not have any means or options open to me financially or otherwise. If I did scream, they would take me back and I would be under full-time security watch."
Sea Org: Joined at age 15, in 1988; left in 2004.
Married: at age 21
Abortions: in 1994 and 2001
Today: Married with a newborn child. Lives in Dallas, works as a restaurant manager.
"There's a lot of blaming myself. ... I got really depressed after the first one and still went through with the second one. That's something that I just still don't understand."
Sea Org: Joined at age 21, in 1989; left in 1996.
Married: at age 26; remarried at age 28
Abortion: in 1994
Today: Divorced, with three daughters, ages 8 to 14. Lives near London. Works as a writer.
"I felt like a bad person. I felt like I had killed my child. And even years later when I had my own children it would remind me. So it's not something that I would do. It's not something that sits easily on my conscience."
This article was found at:
Laura Dieckman's story
Claire Headley's story
Sunny Pereira's story
St. Petersburg Times - Florida June 13, 2010
Church of Scientology response
Church spokesman Tommy Davis provided a general response in a six-page letter. Here are excerpts:
All Scientologists, staff and parishioners alike, are free to make the decision whether to have a family. This includes such personal matters as birth control and abortion, which the Church does not take a position on.
That said, the Church does not advocate abortion to church staff or parishioners. Anyone claiming to have done so on behalf of the Church, or alleging they did so in conformance with some alleged policy (written or "unwritten") is either lying or did so in contravention of the Church's view on the matter. At no time has any church staff member been "forced" to obtain an abortion. . . .
Individuals who join the Sea Org and later determine they want to have children, may then leave the Sea Org. They receive assistance from the Church, including immediate prenatal care, medical care, financial assistance. . . .
Departure from the Sea Org in such circumstances does not mean that the individual is no longer a member of the Church. The individual simply carries on as a public Scientologist with whatever their chosen career may be. Once their children are grown or of age where they can choose to join the Sea Org themselves, the parents are welcome to return to the Sea Org.
This policy evolved out of respect for families and deference to children. . . . Many occupations are not conducive to raising families and organizations have evolved different solutions. Some religious orders forbid sex and marriage outright. The military disciplines couples who become pregnant in a combat zone. The Sea Org has developed a policy that is fair to the individuals concerned, as well as to the religious order as a whole. . . .
By the mid 1980s . . . experience was teaching that the long and demanding working hours required of Sea Org members and the need for Sea Org parents to be able to go to any remote area of the world on a moment's notice were obstacles to parents properly raising their children. Thus, a policy was implemented requiring that any Sea Org couples desiring to have children do so outside the Sea Org. . . .
It is evident that your sources are claiming that they made choices regarding their pregnancies which they now appear to regret, each with their own seemingly "electrifying account" of these incidents. There is no truth to the allegation that any of these people were forced to have abortions at any time or were made to make these decisions against their own volition. In fact, it is actually impossible to "force" someone to do what is alleged. . . .
The church will not comment on what your sources claim other women may or may not have told them about their own experiences. To do so would be an egregious violation of their rights to privacy, something we refuse to do. Your attempt to publicize the very personal and private choices of these women is offensive in the extreme but typical of the blind bias that guides the Times any time it reports on the Church of Scientology. . . .
Certain former members of the Sea Org, aware of false allegations such as these, voluntarily provided the enclosed declarations in order to set the record straight regarding their experiences in becoming pregnant and departing the Sea Org. . . . Contrary to the versions from your sources, these people uniformly state they were treated with compassion and understanding. . . .
Our humanitarian initiatives and social betterment programs continue to salvage people the world over in the fields of drug abuse prevention, literacy, criminal reform and disaster relief. This is our mission. Activities such as these are what members of the Sea Org have dedicated their lives to forwarding.
This article was found at:
For the full Scientology response see the pdf at:
St. Petersburg Times - Florida June 14, 2010
She fought Scientology for the child they wanted to abort
By Thomas C. Tobin And Joe Childs | Times Staff Writers
Twenty years ago, Natalie Hagemo fought Scientology's Sea org just to give birth to her daughter. Then, 14 years later, she fought the Sea org again to get her back.
Twenty years ago, when Natalie Hagemo was 19, pregnant and working for the Church of Scientology, she couldn't wait to be a mother.
She was near the end of her first trimester, she says, when colleagues in Scientology's military-style religious order, the Sea Organization, began pressuring her to get an abortion.
Two high-ranking officers said terminating the pregnancy would allow her to keep working. They berated her when she said no.
Supervisors told her to hide her expanding belly lest co-workers start thinking it was acceptable to get pregnant. Friends and colleagues shunned her.
Hagemo stood fast and, with her husband at her side, delivered Shelby on Aug. 20, 1990.
Hagemo left the Sea Org but remained an active parishioner and raised her daughter as a Scientologist.
When Shelby was 14, a recruiter came by the local church and signed her up to serve in the Sea Org for a billion years. Hagemo put aside her doubts and allowed it, figuring her daughter would want to come home soon.
A week or so later, Shelby called home in tears, wanting out. Hagemo called a church supervisor to discuss the discharge procedure. She remembers his anger:
You have no say in this. How dare you interfere. You are suppressive.
She reminded him that Shelby was 14; she was still her legal guardian. He told Hagemo the Sea Org didn't have to follow the law of the non-Scientology world.
Angry and worried, Hagemo flew to Los Angeles to get her daughter out. She said it took two weeks.
Church spokesman Tommy Davis said Hagemo's account is "false and denied." He said she was "never pressured to have an abortion," the Sea Org is not hostile to pregnant women and, when Shelby asked to leave, the church helped her "route out.''
Not until this year did Hagemo tell her daughter what happened 20 years ago, and how several colleagues submitted to pressures to get abortions.
"I look at you and I think how many more like you there could have been. And I think about the moms and the dads who had to go through that. And for what?"
The church, she says, wanted it both ways. In the womb, Shelby was a problem, easily discarded.
"Well, the problem became a commodity. She could now work all these hours in the Sea Org, be a cog in a wheel. She was now worth something.
"In my head I was thinking about the irony of it all. Fourteen years later, the child I would not abort, the Sea Org is now trying to keep from me."
Hagemo was 4 when her parents divorced and her mom married a Scientologist.
She was in her early teens when her mom told her dad he couldn't see his daughters if he continued taking drugs. He chose the drugs.
"It devastated me," Hagemo said. "Who makes a choice like that?"
Growing up on Oahu in the 1970s, she hung out at the Scientology community church, or "org," in downtown Honolulu. Kids played and talked while parents took courses and got counseling.
Hagemo was 13 when she read The Problems of Work, by Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard. The book said if something is confusing you, pick a "stable datum,'' a piece of information known to be true, and build on it. That and other Scientology strategies helped Hagemo deal with problems at home.
She was impressed by the discipline of Sea Org members who visited the local church. They seemed more stable than many of the adults in her life, and they took her seriously.
"That was a new concept for me," she said. "I felt like, Wow, I have something to offer."
She dropped out of high school late her sophomore year and joined the staff of the Honolulu org. Eventually the family moved to L.A., and Hagemo and her younger sister joined the Sea Org.
The order cared little about age. Teens were given all the responsibilities they could handle and expected to perform like veterans. Good workers were promoted to senior positions, a philosophy Hagemo welcomed. She was promoted from the staff dining room to a position in a treasury office.
A friend introduced her to his brother, Dan LaFreniere, and Hagemo found herself in her first serious relationship.
Because the Sea Org prohibits intimate contact between unmarried staffers, the young couple skipped dating and married within a few weeks.
"People tend to get married, and get married at a young age,'' Hagemo said. "I was 17 when I got married, and it wasn't uncommon. I had friends that were younger."
Her new husband was about two years older.
Hagemo's parents had not talked to her about reproduction or the rhythms of her body, and neither did anyone in the Sea Org. She didn't use birth control or keep track of her periods.
Unaware she had been pregnant eight weeks, she had a miscarriage when she was 18. The unexpected loss woke the teenage couple to the idea of starting a family.
Less than a year later, around Christmas 1989, Hagemo was pregnant again.
"I told my husband first and he was really happy. We both wanted kids so it was like, Wow, this is our first baby."
They decided to go forward with their family, even knowing what would come next.
Hagemo had seen pregnant Sea Org members ostracized, made to confess their sins against the group and told to make amends.
To get back in good standing, they were required to deliver an "effective blow" on behalf of Scientology. They also had to ask their colleagues for their signatures saying they approved their return.
One night in the staff dining hall, before Hagemo became pregnant, a woman asked for her signature. The woman's handwritten statement said her pregnancy was bringing down the group but she had redeemed herself by "terminating" it. Also in her favor, the woman had turned in a co-worker who was wanting children.
"I was so shocked I couldn't believe what I was reading," said Hagemo, who interpreted church founder L. Ron Hubbard's writings as decidedly pro-family. Still, she joined others in signing the woman's statement.
She knew a 1986 policy change required new parents be reassigned from the Sea Org to staff local churches. The couple would have to survive on their own but were up for the challenge. They wanted their baby.
After Hagemo reported her pregnancy to a supervisor, two girls who looked 14 or 15 came to her office. They were "messengers'' from upper management, senior officers held in high esteem.
They told her that by getting pregnant she was letting down L. Ron Hubbard, the Sea Org and all mankind. The "greatest good" would be to keep working for Scientology. Hagemo said they told her it was "just a fetus ... just cells'' growing inside her.
"I don't recall them saying, 'You need to get an abortion.' It was just: Abortion is very much an option ... You'd be proving your loyalty to the Sea Org."
Hagemo believes some abortions are warranted, but in her case it would have destroyed a life "for no good reason." Her mother survived getting pregnant in high school, she figured she could, too. And the Sea Org would certainly get by without her.
Two days later the young "messengers'' came back to see if she had changed her mind. Ten weeks pregnant, Hagemo told them no, and she says they berated her.
Hagemo and her husband were told they would be assigned to a small org. Until then, she was to wear her jacket and bigger skirts to cloak the pregnancy.
"They didn't want me walking around being obviously pregnant. That was definitely pointed out to me. They didn't want other women getting any ideas that it was okay to be pregnant."
It became impossible to hide. Friends steered clear of her, not wanting to look like they condoned her choice. "You understand," she said they would tell her.
On the rare occasions someone showed interest in her baby-to-be, she talked to them on the sly. "There was no open congratulations, 'Oh my gosh, can I feel the baby kick?' It was like, 'In my office, shut the door.' "
At a restroom sink one day, a public relations staffer looked at Hagemo's belly and asked with disdain, "How can you do that?''
Hagemo started crying and shaking. "I'm in this environment where it's one of the worst things you can possibly do. I'm married. I didn't do anything wrong. I just wanted to scream out sometimes."
Late in her pregnancy, she was called into an office to answer questions while connected to an e-meter. The Scientology device is said to measure a person's mental state, including whether she is telling the truth. Hagemo said the investigator wanted names of people who told her it was okay to get pregnant.
Davis, the church spokesman, said Hagemo's portrayal is false.
"The church has the deepest respect for family and the creation of a family and children. There is no hostility towards pregnant women."
The church provided sworn declarations from one current and 10 former Sea Org members who said they or their spouses were treated well during pregnancies and there was no pressure to have an abortion. One was from Aaradona Walker of Santa Rosa, Calif. She said when she got pregnant in 2008, a church staffer helped her and her husband leave the Sea Org.
"No one tried to get me to change my mind or pressure me to do anything else," Walker wrote. "No one tried to talk me out of having the baby."
Hagemo said their accounts don't change what she experienced.
"Maybe some women were more fortunate when they became pregnant. Not every young boy in the Catholic Church was molested. That it didn't happen to some doesn't mean it didn't happen to the others who did suffer."
Two weeks before her due date, supervisors told Hagemo she could stop working, but she needed to stay in her room up to the delivery and after, until she, Dan and the baby transferred to their new assignment: Seattle.
"This allegation is absurd and is denied,'' Davis said.
Shelby was born at a birth center in Glendale. The young couple brought her home to their tiny room on Scientology's L.A. campus.
"Even though it was crappy circumstances, I was so happy to have my baby," Hagemo said. "I had no doubt in my mind that I made the right decision, especially when she was born."
In the 14 years after her daughter was born, Hagemo had a second daughter, divorced and moved near her mother in Minneapolis. She remarried, had a son and settled in the suburb of Excelsior.
Her husband, Brad Hagemo, is an optometrist and Scientologist. Natalie Hagemo stayed in good standing with the church by paying a $5,000 penalty for leaving the Sea Org.
She took Scientology classes on parenting and finance and later traveled to Los Angeles for counseling, called "auditing.'' By late 2003, she reached the church's upper, or "Operating Thetan," levels. She felt happy and stable.
Shelby, a freshman at Minnetonka High, also was advancing in Scientology. Church courses helped her communicate better, get past her shyness and make friends more easily. She did well in school.
She dreamed of becoming a Scientology counselor, called an auditor, and volunteered whenever she could at the Twin Cities org in downtown Minneapolis.
In fall 2004, a visiting Sea Org member sat Shelby down for a recruiting pitch. If she joined, she could live her dream, she could be an auditor. She could see her family whenever she wanted. The church would take care of all her needs, plus she would be paid $50 a week.
"I'd be loaded," Shelby remembers thinking. "I was, like, 'Let's do it.' I was, like, 'That sounds really cool. I just want to call my mom,' because my mom wasn't there."
Go ahead and sign first, the recruiter said, then we'll call mom. Shelby signed the standard pledge to stay in the Sea Org for this and future lifetimes. She was 14.
Hagemo had to decide whether to give permission. The pressure years earlier to have an abortion still bothered her, but she was a loyal Scientologist and still admired the Sea Org. She knew the recruiter, plus Shelby was so enthused.
Hagemo also knew how the church would portray it if she resisted. She would be seen as "counter intentioned," standing in Scientology's way.
"I thought, 'Okay, I'll let her go.' But I knew in my heart of hearts that she'd be back because I knew she just wouldn't do well in that environment."
Shelby flew to L.A. and was assigned to the EPF, the Estates Project Force, a Sea Org boot camp of sorts. She worked on construction projects by day and studied Scientology at night.
She had fun, but she was homesick and within a week was crying herself to sleep. The recruiter had said Shelby could talk to her family any time, but it took days to get approval to make a phone call. When they finally talked, Shelby told her mom she wanted to come home.
Mom said she would call the right people and get the discharge process started. She got through to the EPF supervisor, who she said turned belligerent and told her she had no right to interfere.
She told him: "I am her parent, I have legal rights. I can walk in there right now and grab her, and there's nothing you can say about it."
Hagemo said he told her the Sea Org wasn't bound by "wog'' law, the rules of the non-Scientology world.
"For one, I know that's not true,'' she said. "But to say it to a parishioner of the church, to a mother. Anybody with a brain knows you don't p-- off a mother.''
Hagemo flew to Los Angeles to get her daughter out. She said Shelby's EPF supervisor put his finger in her face and yelled at her again for interfering.
Days passed. Hagemo kept asking to see her daughter. "When I finally did see her I wasn't allowed to be alone with her."
Nor were they allowed to talk about her leaving. Shelby didn't know where her mother stood. Would she help her get out? "I didn't know if I was ever gonna leave," Shelby said.
Hagemo decided to take the initiative. She found Shelby at an EPF construction site, took her to the chaplain's office and demanded the church start the discharge process, called "routing out.''
It can take weeks or months.
Shelby had to go through an "ethics" regimen that examined her reasons for leaving. She said she felt like she was in big trouble.
Her supervisor told her she had made a promise when she signed her Sea Org contract and would be a liar if she broke it. Calling her mom was a mistake. Leaving would be a huge mistake.
"He flipped my chair around to face him and he got in my face and started yelling at me about how I was being really rude and how I need to knock it off."
The church disputed their account. "Shelby routed out of the Sea Org when she put in a request to do so,'' Davis said.
He added: "No Sea Org member has ever been subjected to 'intimidation.' "
Two weeks after Shelby first asked to leave, the church let her go. About 11 one night, a door near the Sea Org canteen opened and she walked out. The next day, mother and daughter flew home to Minnesota.
Questions but no answers
Not once during those two weeks did Hagemo think about running off with her daughter or calling authorities to assert her legal rights as a parent. She said she wanted to handle the problem by getting the church to abide by its own policies.
She was struck by the belligerence of the Sea Org officer in L.A. She wondered if he was one rogue staffer or a reflection of church management.
Hagemo took a step the church forbids: She searched the Internet for unauthorized information on Scientology.
She found rumors of "forced abortions'' that had dogged the church for years. Other accounts of "disconnection'' told how the church encouraged members to cut off all communication with relatives and friends who question Scientology.
Hagemo still was distressed over how she was treated when she was pregnant in the Sea Org, and the Internet raised more questions. But for her, the benefits she got from Scientology still outweighed all that.
She and Shelby kept taking Scientology courses. Shelby went back to high school and worked nights at the Twin Cities org, a much lighter commitment than the Sea Org. She was 16 and set her sights on becoming a Scientology auditor and course supervisor.
Hagemo supported her daughter. She also spearheaded the church's drug awareness campaign in the Twin Cities. She kept her doubts about church management to herself.
"The church is good at making you think you're the only one who feels that way," she said. "You don't talk about it with your friends because they'll rat you out to the church for bringing it up."
She likened it to staying in a failing marriage because there's too much to lose. "There were some good times. At one point you were in love. You got butterflies from that person.
"Now you're just nothing but unhappy around them. But you keep wanting to hold on. It's human nature."
By her count, members of her church had tried to take her daughter twice. She said they would try a third time.
'I thought it was normal'
Shelby graduated high school in spring 2008 and traveled to Clearwater to be trained as a church staffer. She was 17.
She audited people, supervised course rooms and loved it.
"I got to help a lot of people. I thought it was like the greatest thing in the world."
Other parts were not so great. Besides the training she agreed to, she had to do the work of a full-fledged Sea Org member. She was told to press parishioners to buy Scientology materials and to make donations. Sometimes, to keep her numbers up, Shelby donated money her mom had sent from home.
Many nights after 10, Shelby called parishioners the world over to get them to buy extension courses. She didn't meet her quotas and was constantly in "ethics" trouble.
Some days, she got only beans and rice for lunch and dinner. Meal times were cut to 15 minutes. She cleaned bathrooms and other spaces through the night and often got by on four or five hours of sleep. Bosses yelled at her.
"I thought it was normal at that point,'' Shelby said of the punishments, "because it happens to you so much, little by little, that you think: Okay, this is supposed to happen. I brought it on myself. My statistics are down so I should be on rice and beans …
"It kind of sucked when you had to do it but, you know, I just did it because Scientology was so worth it."
Meantime, her mother's doubts were growing. The Hagemos and other Twin Cities parishioners were getting frequent and demanding pitches to donate money and buy books, CDs and DVDs. The church asked for money several times a day and late at night, by phone and by text. Every time Hagemo entered the Twin Cities org, she said, someone asked her to donate.
By January 2009, she'd had enough. She complained, and a church official said raising money was "command intention" from upper management.
Davis, the church spokesman, responded by citing the church's policy on donations: "Parishioners give voluntarily to support their religion as they have always done."
He said Shelby was never punished in Clearwater and was not deprived of sleep. All staffers in Clearwater "must get proper sleep and nutrition in order to study in accordance with scriptural requirements."
Last June, Hagemo and her husband read "The Truth Rundown,'' the St. Petersburg Times' accounts of high-level church defectors who said they had witnessed physical and mental abuse within the church's top management. Hagemo, her husband, her mother and stepfather decided to leave the church.
The only problem was Shelby. She was still in Clearwater, training and working for the church - a 19-year-old adult who could make her own decisions. If her family were disaffected, the church would tell Shelby to sever relations with all of them.
Hagemo decided not to tell anyone about her break from the church until Shelby came home for Christmas. But church officials in Minnesota could tell the family was having doubts.
Shelby's supervisors pushed hard for her to stay in Clearwater over the holiday. They said she couldn't be replaced, she would be a slacker if she left.
She called her mom, crying.
I don't want to go home … I should stay … I have big responsibilities.
Hagemo recalled: "I just realized then like, Wow, who are you? If you're so happy with your decision to stay there, then why are you crying?"
A church official in Minnesota sent Shelby a list of "bad indicators" about her family:
• Her mom went online and found incorrect information about abuse in the church.
• Her mom and stepfather went on a date instead of attending a church event.
• Her grandmother, a veteran Scientologist, was baptized a Christian.
An ethics officer in Clearwater told Shelby she should not go home to that environment. Not even for the Christmas holiday, which was to include a long-planned trip to Mexico with her biological father, no longer a practicing Scientologist. He threatened to fly to Clearwater to get her, and the church let Shelby leave.
Hagemo said her daughter came home withdrawn and exhausted. She had bulging veins behind one knee that a doctor said came from standing for hours. Shelby said she worked 70-hour weeks.
But she was still wavering. Her family's disavowal of the church seemed sudden and "psycho.''
Hagemo wanted Shelby to decide her own future in the church but saw signs her daughter wasn't thinking for herself. Shelby wanted to call a superior in Clearwater for guidance on whether to come back there. She told her mom: "He'll tell me what to do.''
Shelby was still uncertain when she left to spend the holiday with her father in Mexico.
In a three-sentence e-mail sent Dec. 28, 2009, Hagemo and her husband notified Scientology officials that they were leaving the church. Their note concluded: "We remain Scientologists independent of the Church of Scientology."
That day a church official contacted Shelby in Mexico on Facebook and offered her a place to stay in Minnesota. Furious, Hagemo fired off e-mails demanding the official stay away from her daughter.
"What church attempts to break up and create rifts within a family?" she wrote.
After Shelby returned from Mexico, her mother talked to her about human rights.
"No one has a right to keep you from your family. No one has a right to deprive you of food. No one has a right to deprive you of sleep like that. It's a punishment and it's a human rights abuse.''
That registered with Shelby, Hagemo said. "For her, labeling it for what it was made all the difference in the world.''
In January, Shelby left the church, too.
"Over my life in Scientology, I've had a lot of wins and I did really well.'' she said. "But one common thing that's always happened in the church is they've always tried to do something to disconnect me from some part of my family."
In conversations with Shelby early this year, Hagemo eased into the subject of how she was pressured to abort Shelby 20 years ago. Her reaction? She had seen enough of the Sea Org that she wasn't surprised.
Church spokesman Davis said mother and daughter made their own choices, the church didn't force them to do anything. Now, he said, Hagemo is "rewriting history to justify her decision to leave Scientology."
Hagemo said she sees a years-long pattern of church interference and control. It started in 1990 with pressure to abort Shelby, followed in 2004 by the Sea Org trying to keep Shelby from leaving and in 2009 by the church trying to keep her from family.
"That's three times that they tried to take my daughter,'' Hagemo said. "I mean, call me an idiot for putting up with it for that long.
"It's a process that you go through. For some people it happens quicker, for some it takes a couple of years to really face it … I made excuses for so much."
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.
This article was found at:
St. Petersburg Times - Florida June 14, 2010
Church of Scientology's response
Church of Scientology spokesman Tommy Davis says the accounts of Natalie Hagemo and her daughter, Shelby LaFreniere, are untrue.
Hagemo's description of being pressured to have an abortion and shunned while in the Sea Org: "False and denied."
That Shelby was mistreated while working for the church in Los Angeles and Clearwater: also "false and denied."
In a letter to the Times, Davis said: "The Church has the deepest respect for family and the creation of a family and children. There is no hostility towards pregnant women."
He addressed Hagemo's account that two officers from Scientology's Commodore's Messenger Organization, or CMO, pressured her to have an abortion in 1990. "Clearly this is a vivid incident for Ms. Hagemo; can she not recall the name of the 'CMO Officers' who spoke to her and berated her?" Hagemo says she cannot.
"Ms. Hagemo's contentions are the statements of someone who is rewriting history to justify her decision to leave Scientology," Davis said.
"No one tried to get her to abort her daughter. Once her daughter was grown, no one forced her to give permission for her daughter to join the Sea Organization, or withdraw that permission a few weeks later. No one forced her daughter to then return to the church as a trainee several years later, or to leave the church when she, like her mother, changed her mind."
This article was found at:
St. Petersburg Times - June 15, 2010
Scientology's family-friendly image contrasts with pressure for abortions
A Times Editorial
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.
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