WASHINGTON -- Female workers in the Church of Scientology have been coerced into having abortions, according to the St. Petersburg (Fla.) Times.
In a two-part expose, the Times reported more than a dozen women told the newspaper that supervisors in the Sea Organization -- Scientology's 6,000-member, military-like order that runs the religious cult's international operations -- pressured them or other women to abort their unborn children. In a federal suit filed by one of the women, 36 former or current staff members were named as having abortions while working for the Sea Org, as it is commonly known.
Women quoted by the Times said Sea Org culture promoted -- often in forceful ways -- aborting their babies as a demonstration of their commitment to Scientology's goal of saving the planet.
"You just have a way of thinking," said Sunny Pereira, who had an abortion as a new bride of 21. "It all has to do with the Sea Org and what we're trying to accomplish. Everything that is a distraction is scorned."
Those who spoke to the Times said women who resisted having abortions were ostracized by other Sea Org workers, labeled "degraded beings" and ridiculed for not following the order's ethical code. Some pregnant Sea Org members had to perform manual labor and undergo questioning until they agreed to abort, the newspaper reported.
Tommy Davis, a Scientology spokesman, denied the charges, saying the cult "has never engaged in such activity."
"The decision to have a child or terminate a pregnancy is a personal decision made by a couple," Davis told the Times. "That applies to all Scientologists."
Laura Dieckman, 31, who had an abortion as a 17-year-old wife and now has two preschool children, cried as she talked about putting Scientology's interests ahead of her baby, the Times reported June 13.
"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," Dieckman said.