Did Israeli Doctors Force Contraception on Ethiopian Immigrants?

The Israeli Health Minister has announced an investigation into reports that Ethiopian immigrant women have been injected with contraceptives for years without consent

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Eliana Aponte / REUTERS

Jewish Ethiopian women attend a morning service at a compound while awaiting immigration to Israel in Gondar on March 8, 2007

Israeli Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman has called for an investigation into the reported administering of Depo-Provera contraceptive shots to Ethiopian immigrant women without consent. Depo-Provera is a progestrogin-only contraceptive that is administered every three months through injection. According to Dr. Paula Franklin of Marie Stopes International who spoke with TIME, it is a “safe, medium-term reversible hormonal contraceptive” that is used around the world by women of “informed consent.” However, countless Ethiopian women have reportedly been given this contraceptive without understanding or consent.

The news that Ethiopian women were being injected with Depo-Provera, a contraceptive shown to have links with bone loss, emerged in December 2012 following a documentary by Israeli journalist Gal Gabai. In her short film titled Where Did the Children Disappear to, Gabai revealed that, in the past decade, the birthrate among Ethiopian immigrants had decreased by 50%, writes the Jewish Daily Forward. She discovered that women were denied proper family-planning counseling or an outline of birth control methods from medical staff, while others were informed that their entry into Israel would be blocked if they refused to take the contraceptive, notes the Guardian. Many had no idea what they were being injected with. In the documentary, Gabai offers two possible explanations — either it is “an intention to do good, to prevent poverty and to help with the adjustment to Western urbanized living,” or it’s an “economic calculation to reduce immigration and absorption costs.” “This story reeks of racism, paternalism and arrogance,” Gabai told viewers during the broadcast on Israeli Educational Television.

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The issue of contraceptive shots to Ethiopian women first came to light in 2009 when Hedva Eyal, from the female support group Woman to Woman, published a report similar to Gabai’s film, writes Haaretz. The Health Ministry responded at the time that Depo-Provera was only used “when there is a medical indication to do so and other methods [of contraception] cannot be used.” Although an investigative committee has now been set up by the Israeli Health Ministry, Litzman earlier denied knowledge of the contraceptive program in the wake of allegations from Gabai’s documentary.

More than 50,000 Ethiopian Jews have immigrated to Israel in the past 10 years but often face bias and discrimination in their new home, writes the Guardian. Sara Reuben, an Ethiopian immigrant who helped Gabai in her interviews, believes the Israeli government is “taking advantage of women who are weak because they are new to the country, do not understand the language and who traditionally respect authority.”

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