Sexism and Scientology: L. Ron Hubbard's Now-Absent Chapters and Female Scientology Staff's Alleged Forced Abortions
In a special report entitled "No Kids Allowed" at TampaBay.com, the website of the St. Petersburg Times, women come forward and tell unsettling stories of their lives working for the Church of Scientology's religious order, the Sea Organization. The women began working for the church in their teens during the 1990s in exchange for food, clothing, shelter and medical care. They devoted themselves to performing whatever tasks deemed necessary to furthering church goals, and anything that interfered with that work was considered a distraction that must be eliminated, including children. Some of these women were coerced to have abortions, they tell the Times.
These former church staff members claim leaders intimidated pregnant women into ending their pregnancies, threatening the young women with "strenuous physical work" and subjecting them to multiple interrogations and isolation. Church defectors say some pregnant women were forced to dig ditches.
On the report's video, three women speak. However, according to the St. Petersburg Times, its investigation found the women's "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."
Those who refused to abort their pregnancies were shunned.
Church leaders deny these allegations, per the article. The paper says Sea Organization members are not required to be celibate as are some members of special orders in other religions. Tommy Davis, a spokesman for the church said, "There is no church policy to convince anyone to have an abortion ... " However, he also said "the rigors of Sea Org life are not conducive to having children," according to the video.
Jamie Kapalko, writing at Salon.com's Broadsheet, says:
Scientology has no official position on abortion, but if these alarming allegations are true, they place the organization firmly in the anti-choice camp.
At Feministing, the blogger writes about the women on the video and says:
Laura Dieckman, Claire Headley, and Sunny Pereira all came from Scientology families and entered the Sea Org at 12, 16, and 15 respectively. ... Dieckman, Headley, and Pereira all outline pressure put on them to have abortions. And of course the pressure of losing one's community cannot be overstated -- as oppressive as such an environment must be, to lose one's whole world is a terrifying thing and a powerful tool for coercion.
An advertisement for the book, Scientology: Abuse at the Top by Amy Scobee, runs beside the newspaper's report. Scobee is a church defector who once managed the organization's international offices in California and also built its Celebrity Centers network. In 2009 the paper interviewed her as well, and she said the church's leader, David Miscavige, at times physically attacked staff members. Scobee's ordeal, the current story of forced abortions,and other exposé articles about the church are part of a series at the paper called The Truth Rundown that details allegations against the church as more defectors come forward.
Addressing the current accusations, the church spokesman quoted in "No Kids Allowed" says that no one has forced anyone to have an abortion in Sea Org.
"Davis said the women speaking out to the Times made personal choices 'they now clearly regret.'"
The newspaper makes available Davis's six-page response on behalf of the church as a PDF. In addition, the newspaper features a letter from a Scientology member who says the paper misrepresents the church.
However, an article at the Village Voice indicates the church's founder, L. Ron Hubbard, who died in 1986 and was also a science siction novelist, wrote books for church members with sexist messages. Indeed, some passages of Hubbard's 1965 book Scientology: A New Slant on Life, under the chapter "A Woman's Creativity," read like notes for Margaret Atwood's novel The Handmaid's Tale.
In Hubbard's vision of an ideal society, women serve only one purpose:
"A society in which women are taught anything but the management of a family, the care of men, and the creation of the future generation is a society which is on its way out." ...
"The historian can peg the point where a society begins its sharpest decline at the instant when women begin to take part, on an equal footing with men, in political and business affairs, since this means that the men are decadent and the women are no longer women. This is not a sermon on the role or position of women; it is a statement of bald and basic fact."
The Village Voice article, which refers to Scientology as "a religion founded by a crazy writer," says those passages have been eliminated from the most recent reprint of Scientology: A New Slant on Life.
While Hubbard's beliefs do not align with feminist principles that women are fully equal to men and can have careers and hold political office, it's nevertheless obvious he held motherhood as woman's highest purpose. So, how did Sea Org, which Hubbard established in 1967, allegedly become a place where women are forced to have abortions? The Times article suggests Miscavige's vision powers that unwritten policy:
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.
According to the article, unlike Hubbard and his wife, who had six children and specified that Sea Org have "Family Time," Miscavige and his wife have no children. They are also part of the 6,000-member Sea Org order that requires members to "sign billion-year contracts, symbolizing a commitment to serve in this life and coming ones."
Hubbard started the Church of Scientology in Camden, New Jersey, in 1953, seven years before I was born, after first developing a self-help system called Dianetics in 1950, which purports to explain why humans are depressed and troubled. I remember hearing "L. Ron Hubbard's Dianetics!" shouted boldly on television during my youth via Scientology commercials. According to supporters, Scientology offers its own path to happiness and psychological healing. Consequently, the church opposes psychiatric medicine.
Over the years, the church has been a magnet for controversy, but it is equally known for celebrity members who defend it, including married couple Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes and also Kirstie Alley. In April, actress Juliette Lewis was quoted to say she doesn't understand why Scientology receives so much criticism.
“It’s a progressive religion in that it’s a body of knowledge. You can be a Jewish or a Buddhist Scientologist and people don’t understand that.
Nevertheless, an abiding stigma clings to professing membership in the church so much so that even celebrities who are not members but who have Scientologist friends get slammed. Will and Jada Smith have had to publicly deny membership in the church because they are friends with Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes.
Some critics of the church imply it's a scam designed to sucker initiates into paying large sums for church secrets about humanity and aliens. They think the only aliens to be found are the ones who escaped the mind of Scientology's science-fiction-author founder. While sometimes hailed as benevolent, the church is frequently classified as a "dangerous" cult, as it was in this 1991 Times Magazine article. Suppers remind critics that Christianity was once consider similarly dangerous and a cult.
As you can see from this old CNN video, the St. Petersburg Times is not the first media outlet to investigate the church. However, the Times story may be the most chilling yet.