Last week, a Los Angeles Superior Court judge denied a motion for summary judgment filed by the Church of Scientology in the case of Laura Ann DeCrescenzo, who alleges that she suffered numerous abuses by the church, including a forced abortion. This means the case can now go to trial—but will a jury ever see it?
The daughter of Scientologist parents, Laura DeCrescenzo (née Dieckman) was just six years old when she became involved in Scientology. By the age of 12, she signed the organization's infamous billion-year contract and joined Scientology's Sea Organization, a type of maritime-inspired labor camp where workers in mock-nautical attire devote their entire lives to Scientology.
According to DeCrescenzo and other former church members, Scientology prohibited women in the Sea Org from having babies in order to maximize productivity and keep the Scientology machine running efficiently. But after years of toiling away her waking hours for a pittance, DeCrescenzo married another Scientologist and became pregnant at the age of 17. DeCrescenzo says she was forced to have an abortion against her will, spending the following years in the Sea Org's hardcore prison program, the Rehabilitation Project Force (RPF).
Desperate to escape the Sea Org's brutal conditions, DeCrescenzo apparently took drastic measures and drank bleach in order to make people believe she was suicidal. Though she split up with her husband and left the Sea Org in 2004, she stayed in Scientology until 2008, shortly before she gathered the resolve to take her whole ordeal to court, encouraged by her own parents who had left Scientology in the meantime.
For seven years, DeCrescenzo's complaints against Scientology have been caught up in extremely complicated litigation, but last week, Judge John Doyle finally ruled that her case could proceed to trial — barring all appeals by the Church of Scientology or a possible settlement.
Tony Ortega is a veteran journalist who's worked as editor-in chief of The Village Voice and as executive editor of RawStory. A foremost authority on Scientology, Ortega appeared as an expert in the HBO documentary Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood and the Prison of Belief and wrote the book The Unbreakable Miss Lovely: How the Church of Scientology tried to Destroy Paulette Cooper.
Ortega has also been doggedly chronicling the church's activities on his blog The Underground Bunker, informing readers of the latest news about all things Scientology. As a result, Ortega has facilitated a formidable community of ex-Scientologists, human rights activists, and those just fascinated with the church's endless stream of drama—from the mystery of church leader David Miscavige's missing wife to Leah Remini's public defection and beyond. As someone who's provided the bulk of breaking news on Scientology and the Laura DeCrescenzo case, Ortega has a few things to say about it.
"You sit a jury down and have Laura testify about what it was like to be a 12-year-old working 98 hours a week for pennies an hour, and when she wrote a note to her mother about how she missed her mom, she was punished for it? Are you kidding me? A jury is gonna say, 'What?' So Scientology can really not afford for this to get to a jury, is my personal opinion," Ortega says. "That's why I think they're gonna keep fighting and keep fighting and keep fighting until that trial."
As part of an investigative series on Scientology, the Tampa Bay Times first exposed the church's sordid practice of forcing abortions in a 2010 article and a short film called Scientology: No Kids Allowed. Interviewees include both DeCrescenzo and another ex-Scientologist, Claire Headley. Headley was forced to have two abortions and told Ortega there were upwards of 60 other women in Scientology who were made to have abortions as well. Ortega also points out that two men, Gary Morehead and Gary Weber, have come forward and admitted their jobs were to convince pregnant women to get the abortions and regularly drive them to the clinic. According to Ortega, the forced-abortions practice lasted from as early as 1982 to 2010, until the Tampa Bay Times article exposed it.
"Laura, as far as I know, is the only woman who has sued specifically for her forced abortion," Ortega says. "So it's a big case because it represents something that Scientology definitely doesn't want people to know about them."
Right now, the potential outcome of DeCrescenzo's suit is uncertain. In the 1980s, Scientology lost two jury trials in Los Angeles and Portland, and the judgments were for $30 million each. So if the past is a factor, Scientology will fight all the way to the end in order to prevent a jury trial, or else mediate with DeCrescenzo and reach a settlement. Either way, it doesn't change the fact that there are countless other women just like DeCrescenzo who were forced to have abortions, too.
"One of the reasons I like writing about Scientology is that it's not really a left or right issue. This should outrage everybody," Ortega says.