Marc Headley decided to flee Int Base on January 5, 2005. He had to keep his plans a secret, even from his wife, Claire.
“He radioed me with his Nextel phone and asked if I was coming home,” Claire recalled. The couple lived in an apartment on the base, which they got to use very little. She told Marc that she was going to try to get home, but she was still working.
“I never made it home to shower,” she said. “I had been dozing at my desk for about an hour, and a person came in and said, ‘Marc’s driving down Highway 79 right now on his motorcycle.’” In other words, they knew he was escaping. Claire offered to go after her husband, to try to “recover” him to the base. But, from leadership’s perspective, it was too late. She was told, “He’s an enemy now.”
“I knew the drill,” Claire said. She had to make the other workers believe that she'd had nothing to do with Marc's escape, and that she was now turning her back on her husband. She also went into extreme sleep deprivation. “I knew that sleeping an hour or so a night reduced my chances of being ‘sec checked,’” she said, referring to the brutal security interrogations of those suspected of working against the Church.
Before long, Claire made her own escape and was reunited with Marc, and they then set about doing what they weren’t allowed to do in the Sea Org: have a family. They now live in Colorado with their three young boys.
And that’s where the most insidious of Scientology policies enters the picture: From the early 1980s or mid-1990s, depending on which source you consult, it was against policy for Sea Org workers to have children. This held true until about 2010, when the Tampa Bay Times first exposed the practice of church officials pressuring pregnant Sea Org women to get abortions.
Sleep deprivation, say former members Gary Morehead and Gary Weber, was central to enforcing this policy.
For the record, Scientology has denied coercing abortion among its members. But in 2010, a spokesman, Tommy Davis, did admit to the Tampa Bay Times that there had been a longtime policy against having children in the Sea Org.
Twice, Claire Headley says, she was forced to have abortions in the Sea Org. “I didn’t have a choice,” she told the Tampa Bay Times for their video series, “No Kids Allowed,” produced in 2010. “If I had said, ‘I’m not going to do this,’ I would’ve been separated from my husband. The possibilities were endless. I knew I would’ve had serious punishments levied. I would’ve been on manual labor. I was concerned for what would happen to my child. So, I did not have a choice.”
Another former member who makes this claim is Laura DeCrescenzo, the New Mexico woman whose abuse trial is scheduled for December 7. When Laura was 16, she married another Sea Org worker. At 17, Laura got pregnant. In her court depositions, she testified that was told an abortion would be "the greatest good for the greatest number of dynamics," a Scientology slogan used to assure loyalty to the group.
DeCrescenzo’s accusation that she was given no choice but to terminate her pregnancy — which she later regretted — is central to her lawsuit. (In its court briefs, Scientology has denied that DeCrescenzo was coerced, and says that her decision was her own.)
Two men have also come forward with similar stories, saying they not only witnessed the incidents but abetted them. One, Gary Morehead, was the chief of security at Int Base. A few years ago, he sat down with filmmaker Mark Bunker and talked about the subtle task of making sure pregnant Sea Org workers went along with the program. In a clip Bunker posted to YouTube, Morehead explained his process:
“We would address the sensitivity of it, but it would be to the benefit of the group. It wasn’t like, ‘Listen, bitch, you need to get an abortion.’ It was like, ‘Hey, listen, you know, how you doing?’ And who was the best person to have that conversation with them?... If their father or their mother was on staff, you’d go that route. And the girl would be convinced to have an abortion. Or she would come out and say, so fearful, that she would herself self-elect, say, ‘I need to get an abortion.’”
Morehead and another former Sea Org employee, Gary Weber, make it clear that extreme sleep deprivation contributed to their subjects’ malleability.
“Sleep deprivation was an ingredient of the Kool-Aid mix that kept us all there,” Morehead said, adding that the lack of sleep was a “significant” factor in his ability to talk women into going for abortions. There was also an unflagging belief that having children detracted from Scientology’s goal of “clearing the planet.”
Claire Headley corroborates this. “Sleep deprivation was...a big reason why I stayed there as long as I did,” she said. “My powers of reasoning were worn down by the extreme lack of sleep. Quite literally I could not think straight or see myself out of the nightmare I was stuck in. The last year...it would be safe to say that I could count the number of nights I slept a full night on two hands. And the number of nights I slept not a wink were too numerous to count.”
Laura DeCrescenzo’s lawsuit has traveled a very complex road to trial, and it’s not there yet. A new hurdle was recently thrown in its path. Last month, Church of Scientology lawyers filed another motion for summary judgment; a previous motion was dismissed in 2013.
This time, the Church has asked the court to dismiss DeCrescenzo’s lawsuit because it is a church and its treatment of Sea Org workers — however perceived by the outside world — is protected under the religious freedom guaranteed in the First Amendment.
This strategy has worked for Scientology in the past. It’s entirely possible that DeCrescenzo’s case may never see a courtroom.
A request for comment about the Sea Org's extreme work hours and the claims of coerced abortion was sent to the church. No reply was received by press time. We will update this article if we receive any comment from the Church of Scientology.