An Israeli government official has acknowledged that a number of Ethiopian women who were immigrating to Israel were injected with a long-acting contraceptive without understanding the consequences of the treatment.
Haaretz reports that Health Ministry Director General Prof. Ron Gamzu banned Israel's health maintenance organizations from injecting Ethiopian women with the contraceptive Depo-Provera "if for any reason there is concern that they might not understand the ramifications of the treatment.”
Reports of forced birth control shots have been around for years, but government officials had always denied the practice. A documentary that aired in December on Israel's Educational Network also shed new light on the reports.
Haaretz wrote in December that 35 Ethiopian women who immigrated to Israel eight years ago claimed on the show "Vacuum" that, as they understood, they would not be allowed to move to Israel unless they agreed to the Depo-Provera shots.
"We said we won't have the shot," recounted one of the women, according to Haaretz. "They told us, if you don't you won't go to Israel. And also you won't be allowed into the Joint (American Joint Distribution Committee) office, you won't get aid or medical care. We were afraid ... We didn't have a choice. Without them and their aid we couldn't leave there. So we accepted the injection. It was only with their permission that we were allowed to leave."
Some of the women didn't know the shots contained contraceptives, the Times of Israel added, but instead thought they were vaccinations. Others said they kept receving the shots once in Israel, even after reporting side effects such as headaches and abdominal pains.
Efrat Yardai explains in an op-ed for Haaretz that Depo-Provera is an extremely intrusive drug and is usually prescribed for "women who are institutionalized or developmentally disabled."
"Depo-Provera has a shameful history," he writes.
According to a report by the Isha L'Isha organization, the injections were given to women between 1967 and 1978 as part of an experiment that took place in the U.S. state of Georgia on 13,000 impoverished women, half of whom were black. Many of them were unaware that the injections were part of an experiment being conducted on their bodies. Some of the women became sick and a few even died during the experiment.
According to The Independent, nearly 100,000 Ethiopian Jews have moved to Israel since the 1980s, when the first airlifts brought Jews from Ethiopia to Israel. Yet the group has been met with skepticism in Israel society, and is often discriminated against. Many Ethiopian Jews have spent time in transit camps or were forced to live in absorption centers in Israel to "adjust to society." They face widespread discrimination in the job market and the educational system.
"This is about reducing the number of births in a community that is black and mostly poor," Hevda Eyal, author of the report "By Women to Women," told The National, referring to the birth control shots.
According to a 2010 report, a majority of the prescriptions of Depra-Provera written by Israeli doctors over the past few years were for Ethiopian women. "Figures show that 57 percent of Depo Provera users in Israel are Ethiopian, even though the community accounts for less than two percent of the total population," The National explains.
The Times of Israel details a nurse -- captured by a hidden camera in a health clinic -- telling an Ethiopian woman that the shot is given to Ethiopian immigrants because, "they forget, they don’t understand, and it’s hard to explain to them, so it’s best that they receive a shot once every three months … basically they don’t understand anything."