Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Sea Org and Coerced Abortions

The 30 Second Skinny The Church of Scientology runs a quasi-military group called Sea Org that it describes as like a monastic order. Accusations have been made that Sea Org members are coerced into having abortions. This is denied by the Church, but there is undoubtedly a great deal of pressure for Sea Org women to comply to get an abortion, because leaving Sea Org, and possibly their family or even the Church itself, would be too great a price to pay. This pressuring needn't be verbal (although it is claimed that it is), it is systemic of the organisation.

Tampa Bay have published a report and a number of interviews with former Sea Org members who are claiming that the Church of Scientology coerced them into getting abortions. This is a thorny issue, a more emotive area touching on similar problems that the minimum wage plaintiffs faced. In essence the Sea Org is explained away by the Church of Scientology as being akin to a monastic order. It would be as inappropriate for a Sea Org member to become pregnant as it would a nun to become pregnant, immaculate conceptions allowing. This, if we sidestep the issue of whether or not the Church of Scientology constitutes a genuine religion, is fair enough, up to a point.

However that is not how the Sea Org is presented to Scientologists. It sells the Sea Org as the military, as a sci-fi Navy.
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The Sea Org is supposed to be battling the evil forces at work throughout the galaxy. It's work isn't about an individual's path to enlightenment (in fact joining Sea Org will generally slow a Scientologist's progress along the bridge), nor is it even about writing baudy songs and making beer, or offering counselling, or sanctuary, or religious insight. It is about fighting the good fight with that most favourite of Scientology weapons, paperwork.

The military qualities of the Sea Org extends far beyond its uniforms. Its hierarchy and discipline are all based on the military too.

The SO is only a religious order when CoS needs to defend its poor treratment of its staff to critics and the law.

And now we have a growing number of women coming forward saying that while in the Sea Org they became pregnant and were coerced into having abortions. The Church's view on this is simple. You cannot stay in Sea Org and remain pregnant. The Church does not view this as coercive behaviour. But here's why it is...

In most cases it appears that the father of the child is also a member of Sea Org. Sea Org members can be posted anywhere at a moment's notice around the globe. This is a threat of separation. If a woman leaves the Sea Org in order to raise her child, her husband may end up being posted to Croatia.

Leaving Sea Org for any reason is strictly taboo. They may be put on Rehabilitation Project Force, the Sea Org's disciplinary arm, and face periods of forced labour (though, of course, the RPF is "voluntary"). On leaving the Sea Org they may yet be declared a Suppressive Person, which would lead to them being ostracised by their family and friends.

Some former SO members have reported facing Freeloader Bills, an unenforceable order to pay for any auditing and training taken while working for the Church.

For many SO members, there's is the only way of life they know. They are, to borrow an analogy from Christman, like Truman, staring at the door that will lead him out of his Show and into reality.

Tommy Davis says there is "no policy" for enforced abortions, but the way that the Church of Scientology operates, there doesn't need to be. The policy is that you can't have kids in the SO. This becomes coercion purely because of the way in which CoS works.

The last cry of defense is that these people did not go into the Sea Org blindly. They were aware of the no kids rule. However, I doubt very much that Scientologists ever know what they're getting themselves into. In this case we are talking about women who joined the SO when they were as young as 12 and before Miscavige introduced the "no kids" rule in 1996. I don't think an incomplete agreement made by a child should be used to enforce infertility on them in later life. Is that unreasonable of me?

Davis might like to suggest that if anyone was coerced to have an abortion they were acting on their own impulses. If you really believe that then what is to be done about them, Tommy? Because if you are telling the truth, and these people acted counter to church policy, then to stand by and do nothing means you are condoning it through negligence. It's on a par with the Catholic Church playing "see no evil" over their pedophile priests.

Or is it really the case that it suits the purpose of the Church of Scientology to have this criminal element in the organisation, coercing Sea Org members into destroying the children they desperately want, so there is no real impulse to do anything about it? As ever, the Church's response to criticism says as much as the criticism did in the first place.

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