Did Scientologists intimidate staffers into having abortions?

It seems impossible and heart-breaking, but the stories of three young Scientologists who felt forced into having abortions is very real, even years later.

But as I watched interviews with these women and read the details of their stories, it seemed very clear that the pain, regret, and feeling of manipulation continues to be present for them all. They were all teenagers when they became pregnant and, at the time, all were former members of Scientology's religious elite order, Sea Organization.

Sea Org stipulates that staffers will not have children, citing that the responsibilities of child rearing interferes with their service, work hours, and mission of the organization. This policy has been in place since 1996. While the church has responded to these specific women's stories -- and a pending lawsuit from one of them -- saying that they often pay for birth control, dismiss pregnant employees from service, and help them financially as they transition out of the organization, these and other women say the treatment of pregnant women is far from supportive.

The women allege that their Sea Org supervisors placed such pressure on them to terminate their pregnancies, they felt they had no other choice. They say they saw pregnant peers placed into heavy manual labor detail after refusing to give into the intimidation tactics, and also knew they'd be unwillingly separated from their husbands if they did not comply and shunned as "degraded beings" for going against the order's ethics. They recall being isolated and interrogated, and one says she was told that her fetus was simply cells and she should not worry about an abortion. As a result, each of them say they gave in and made a decision they did not want to make -- to end their pregnancies.

A Scientologist spokesperson, Tommy Davis, counters these claims, saying supervisors comforted these women, allowed them to nap, and even gave them gifts. He provided sworn statements by ten other Sea Org employees who said that during their own pregnancies, supervisors reduced their work hours, allowed them to take naps, and even gave them gifts. These three women with different experiences, Davis says, made personal decisions and that no church policy on abortion exists.

"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, " Davis says.

So what do we do with the allegations and outpouring of emotion hanging over these three women and more than a dozen others who spoke up during an investigation conducted by the St. Petersburg Times?

It's hard enough to conceive of the lives within Sea Org that they describe -- devoting most of the hours of their day to answering phones and doing manual labor in service to the church and the planet, sometimes sacrificing going to outside schools or being with their families. Trying to imagine being so young and feeling forced to terminate a pregnancy as a part of that commitment is completely overwhelming.

Clearly, there is more investigation to be done into Sea Org and the church, despite its responses and sworn statements from female members. There also seems a great need for healing for these and other women who are beginning to voice the trauma and steep consequences they felt in the decision to have a baby or have an abortion.

Maybe some of that healing will come through the lawsuit, through support from the world outside Scientology, or from just saying the words, stating their truths. Whatever it is, I hope healing finds them.

For the rest of us, those who identify as pro-choice and those who do not and those wavering in the middle, can we come together around stories like these to just support the women in their grief and pain?

Can we gently set our politics to the side just to affirm that these women, like all women, deserved the chance to make their own informed, emotional, individual choice without feeling the pressure of their church employer on top of it all?

Please do watch and read these interviews. I believe you will be as stirred as I was. And then tell us here -- how did you react to the hidden culture of Scientology we are beginning to see from the stories and the church's statements?

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