Monday 16 March 2009

11 Claire Headley's lawsuit

A former Scientologist has filed a lawsuit alleging that members of the movement’s Sea Org were put under unreasonable pressure to have abortions.

Claire Headley is suing Scientology alleging that she and others were pressured into having abortions they did not want while members of the movement’s Sea Org.

In most respects, her lawsuit echoes the allegations made by her husband Marc in the lawsuit he filed on January 5 against the Church of Scientology International (CSI) – the entity at the top of the movement’s corporate structure.

She alleges that Sea Org members regularly worked seven days a week (more than 100 hours) for far less than the minimum wage; and that employees were subject to “intimidation, threat and menace.”

But she also alleges: “In addition to suffering illegal working conditions and wages, Plaintiff was ordered and coerced to have abortions by Defendants’ management.”

Claire Headley worked for the Sea Org between 1991 and 2005, work that the lawsuit describes as “clerical, commercial or secular” in nature.

Like her husband, she was based at the International Base, in Hemet, also known as Gold Base, where Scientology’s leader David Miscavige works.

“During this time, Plaintiff became pregnant on two occasions. Plaintiff was ordered to terminate these pregnancies by forced abortions,” the complaint continues.

“Plaintiff is aware that this was a relatively common practice at Gold Base. Plaintiff has knowledge of approximately 20 other female employees ordered to have abortions.”

As with the allegations of physical abuse and intimidation in Marc Headley’s case, Claire Headley’s allegations find an echo in the claims made by past defectors from the movement.

Mary Tabayoyon served in Scientology’s Sea Org between 1971 and 1992 – and she spent the last eight years at the International Base.

Her 1994 affidavit refers to a special order that was issued on the subject of children in the Sea Org in 1986.

Flag Order 3905 was issued in September 1986 – just months after the death of Scientology’s founder, L. Ron Hubbard. A 1991 reissue of this document has been leaked on to the Internet.

“The ultimate responsibility to clear [save] this planet lays with the Sea Org,” the two-page document declares.

“This is a huge task and a very large responsibility. It requires complete dedication and determination from its staff. Therefore Sea Org members who have new children will not be allowed to remain on duty in Sea Org units.”

Anyone who disobeyed the order would be transferred out of the Sea Org to a more junior posting until such time as the child had reached the age of six, the document adds.

For a dedicated Scientologist, being cast out of the Sea Org is a devastating fall from grace: Tabayoyon, in her affidavit, described such an expulsion as “a severe punishment.”

According to her account, practical implementation of Flag Order 3905 was not simply to transfer women who fell pregnant out of the Sea Org.

“Some of these women went through extensive pressure methods to convince them to have an abortion … I myself got pregnant in 1993 and gave up my child due to my greatly misguided obligation and dedication to the Sea Org …

“Although I would have dearly loved to have had my child and the idea of abortion is abhorrent to me, I did not dare to say it would be nice to keep my baby.”

Since it was considered “Out-Ethics” – unethical – for her to have got pregnant in the first place, she was expected to pay for the abortion herself.

Her senior also told her that when she went to the clinic she was not to let on that she worked at the International Base “because there were too many going there from the base for abortions” and it was considered bad public relations.

But the story did get out, in a 1997 German WDR television documentary, “The Dark Side of Scientology”. They interviewed Janet Honn-Alex of the Planned Parenthood Center in Riverside California, not far from International Base.

Staff there had been puzzled that so many women, regardless of the individual circumstances, had made the decision to have an abortion, said Honn-Alex. “We found that almost unbelievable. And when we started asking more questions, in order to find out their individual motives, because we were suspicious, they stopped coming to us altogether, for any services.”

Another former Sea Org member, Astra Woodcraft told in a 2001 affidavit how she faced the same pressure at the International Base when she fell pregnant.

Woodcraft says that when she was recruited at the age of 14, in 1992, she was told that she would be allowed to have children if she wanted them when she was older.

When she did fall pregnant, in 1998, she quit the movement rather than come under pressure to have an abortion.

“Approximately 1½ years before I left, a new rule came out stating that if you got pregnant, you had to either get an abortion, which was heavily pushed, or leave,” she wrote.

“The rule had previously been that if you got pregnant, you had to get an abortion or be sent to a small and failing lower organization where you had to fend for yourself and your baby.

“I had to handle any staff that disagreed with this new rule. I myself disagreed with it because I wanted children and was told I would be able to have them when I was first recruited.”

Woodcraft had a baby girl and went on to rebuild her life outside Scientology. In 2008, she was one of the cofounders of Ex Scientology Kids website.

In an early posting to the ESK forum, she clarified her position: “I personally am pro-choice despite what people may assume. I do not think abortion is a good thing, I just believe in a woman's right to choose what to do with her body … Being coerced into having an abortion is neither pro-life, nor pro-choice.”

Other former Sea Org members have also spoken of the pressure they were subjected when they – or their partner – fell pregnant.

Headley’s lawsuit implicitly raises questions about the movement’s description of itself as “non-denominational” – or even “all-denominational” – suggesting that its beliefs are somehow compatible with all other religions.

Leaving aside the question of coercion, for Scientologists to even sanction abortion would appear to undermine this position.

Claire Headley filed suit on January 20, 2009, just over two weeks after her husband Marc filed against the CSI. But her lawsuit also targets the Religious Technology Centre (RTC), which handles the movement’s copyright and trademarks.

Chairman of the Board of the RTC is David Miscavige, acknowledged as the overall leader of the movement.

For a legal analysis of Claire Headley’s lawsuit, see Scott Pilutik’s blog here.

Next: Scientology v the Internet


  1. While I certainly do not agree with Scientology beliefs and have issues with a variety of things the Church has done over the years, some responsibility really needs to remain on these volunteers. They're the ones who signed their billion year contracts. They're the ones who joined with the knowledge that pregnancy was frowned upon (except for those who joined decades ago before the rule was implemented).

  2. In response to Ms. Beyer, the ultimate moral responsibility for one's decisions in life is one question. The fact that this fraudulent pseudo-spiritual organization systematically abuses those it has conned into serving it is an entirely different question, and that is the question that is being addressed here.
    Making it the fault of the well-meaning recipient of the abuse only serves the ends of the purveyor of the fraud and abuse.