Israel Admits to Coercing Ethiopian Immigrants Into Taking Birth Control

Shocking news has emerged from Israel, where journalists have been exploring why the birth rate among Ethiopian Jews living in Israel appears to be on the decline. Thousands of Jews of Ethiopian origin live and work in Israel, and evidence shows the immigrant women among them were coerced into taking Depo-Provera, a long-acting birth control medication designed to prevent pregnancy for up to three months. Women were told that they wouldn’t be allowed to enter the country without the injection, and once in Israel, many of them continued to use it.

Depo-Provera is extremely effective, but it comes at a cost. The medication is associated with loss of bone density, which can be difficult to treat, and may increase the risk of developing fractures and osteoporosis later in life. Women on the medication can also experience side effects like increased bleeding or a complete cessation of menstruation, bloating, mood swings and anxiety. Since it’s an injectable drug, they’re stuck with these symptoms until the three month dosage of hormones wears off. Most Israeli gynecologists don’t recommend it unless there’s a compelling medical reason to do, mirroring prescribing practices elsewhere in the world.

When Depo-Provera is used in Israel, it’s notable to look at who’s most likely to take the medication. Organization Isha L’Isha looked into this issue with concerns about who was being medicated and why, worried particularly about the potentially serious side effects of Depo-Provera and whether women were receiving adequate information about the drug so they could make informed choices about its use. The feminist group noted in 2009 that Depo-Provera wasn’t the first choice of birth control for most Israeli women, but that it was commonly used on women in custody and Ethiopian women.

In other words, the drug was used on vulnerable, low-income populations with fewer resources for education, and lower social standing. In addition to being pressured or coerced into using the medication, many may not have understood its risks and benefits, and by continuing to use it without taking precautions like adding calcium supplements to their diets to offset bone loss, they could have experienced permanent damage. Notably, the history of the development of this drug is itself rife with racism and abuses; it was tested on populations of low-income women of color around the world in dubious conditions.

Women taking Depo-Provera weren’t given information about side effects when the drug was administered, and were told simply to return for regular injections every three months. They received little to no gynecological support, including followups to check on symptoms, counseling if they had specific problems while on the medication, and assistance with going off the drug and recovering their fertility. Since it can take some time to reestablish fertility after stopping Depo-Provera, this third issue is of particular concern, and the apparent blanket policy of administering Depo-Provera to Ethiopian immigrants in Israel suggests that officials wanted to create a barrier to childbearing.

The Isha L’Isha study concluded that: “Birth policy in Israel over the years reflects a class-based and separatist agenda towards the various social groups in Israel.”  Ethiopian immigrants have a much lower socioeconomic status, and the policy of strongly recommending Depo-Provera in preference to other birth control options, and providing it without education and support, is indicative of underlying racism.

The government has responded, issuing new guidelines for the dispensation of birth control prescriptions, but will this be enough? Significant social and class divides are an ongoing issue in Israel, and racism in the medical system (as well as elsewhere) cannot be neatly erased with a new set of guidelines. This case should be sparking concerns about other areas in policy and society where racism is allowed to pass unchecked.


Related articles:

Get Your Politics Out of My Birth Control

UN Declares Birth Control A Universal Human Right

Violence Against Blacks Escalates In Israel


Photo credit: Steve Evans


Klaus Peters
Klaus Peters6 years ago

I would have though all Jews are equal and help each other. That is their strength.
I do detect racism here and I am very disappointed.

Valerie VanOrden
Valerie VanOrden6 years ago

This is genocide.

Thomas P.
Thomas P6 years ago

Thanks. This is truly shameful and disgusting. To those who comment that there are too many people in the world already, I agree...there are too many people. However, the problem of overpopulation doesn't discriminate among those with means vs. those without means. The point of the article is that only the Ethiopian immigrants are being forced to use birth control. It doesn't say that native Israeli women are asked to do the same. Moreover, the birth control drug being used may be particularly harmful to women. Those are the points of the article. To those who say the world should "mind its own business," I'd argue that the United States and others provide a great deal of support to Israel, both economically and militarily, and they certainly have a right to be aware of any alleged human rights abuses committed by them or any other country to which they support. I would also say that even if a country didn't support Israel economically or militarily, it would have a moral obligation to investigate, speak out, and/or act accordingly as it saw fit against any alleged or actual human rights abuses. To quote the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere."

Julie F.
Julie F6 years ago

very sad

Vicky P.
Vicky P6 years ago

Sickening country anyway, I'm surprised that they wish to kill off African Jews in place of getting more white Jews.

Patricia H.
Patricia H.6 years ago

sadly noted

Jodi A.
Jodi Ashley6 years ago


Penny C.
penny C6 years ago

So sad.

Lindsay T.
Lindsay T6 years ago

In the original article in Haaretz, it says 'coaxed', not 'coerced'. There is a big difference in meaning between these 2 words.

Susann Dalton
Susann Dalton6 years ago

Well this needs a petition immediately. If I wasn't ill and computerless except for a borrowed phone, I would do more than plead for someone to do something.
Please someone...