Israel forced Ethiopian Women to take Harmful Birth Control Drug


American conservatives are pushing their pro birth stance to the point of denyng women the freedom to make their own reproductive health care decisions. While conservatives in Israel imposed birth control on a very specific segment of Israel’s population – Ethiopian Jews.  In fact, birth control was a condition for gaining entrance to the country.

What is it with men who think that women’s reproductive organs are state property – be it to impose procreation or restrict it? It’s notable that this program fits the legal definition of genocide under Article 2(d) of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.

Some reports suggest some Rabbis questioned the Jewishness of Ethiopian Immigrants.  Last year, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned  that “illegal immigrants from Africa threaten our existence as a Jewish and democratic state”  By the way, Netanyahu also holds the Health Portfolio

Why were Ethiopain Jews forced to take Depo-Provera? This drug is known to have serious physical and psychological side effects.  Israel’s Ministry of Health and Gynocologists also recommended against using this drug -except in extreme circumstances.  Yet, this is the drug they coerced women from Ethiopia into using.

It’s very difficult to avoid seeing the racism in this policy.

Before going further, this policy was changed as a result of activism by Human Rights and Ethiopian Immigrants groups, according to The Association for Civil Rights in Israel.

A group of human rights organizations and Ethiopian immigrants’ groups sent a letter to the Director General of the Ministry of Health, Professor Ron Gamzu, on January 10, 2013, to raise the subject of the widespread provision of Depo-Provera contraceptive injections to Ethiopian women Israel.

The Health Ministry responded with a letter, which says in part:

“Without taking a position or establishing any facts regarding the allegations raised in this matter, I have instructed that in the future all gynecologists working for or with the health maintenance organizations are not to renew any Depo-Provera prescriptions for women originating from Ethiopia or for any other women for whom there is a concern that they do not fully understand the implications of the treatment.

Only following a conversation in which the doctor will determine why the patient is using contraceptive products, why she is using this product in particular, whether she is attempting to prevent pregnancy voluntarily and whether she understands the side effects of the product as opposed to other contraceptive means should a prescription be renewed.”

Of course, the fact that this drug was imposed on Ethiopian women for a decade, resulting in a decline in the birth rate by 20%, may have met the originally intended objectives.  The fact that they are reversing this inhumane and I would argue, criminal policy, is a step in the right direction. When a country implements an odious policy like this one, it’s reasonable to expect accountability from those responsible.

Sebba Reuven recorded the stories of 35 women who were “coaxed” and threatened into receiving a drug that Israel’s Ministry of Health advises against using.  A few weeks ago, Gal Gabbay revealed the results of those interviews on an Educational Television program.  Without their work, we probably wouldn’t know about this story. Even worse, had this story not been reported, the policy of forcing women to take Depo-Provera would likely be continued.

Talila Nesher of Haaretz  tells of Emawayish’s experience:

“We said we won’t have the shot. 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.”

As I said earlier, the result of this policy was a drop in the Ethiopian Community’s birth rate of 20% in 10 years.

I’m glad the Ministry appears to have reversed the policy.  They must be held to that reversal.  That means we need to keep an eye on them.

I also think someone has a lot of explaining to do. At the very least, the facts we know suggest more than probable cause to believe that Article 2(b) the Genocide Convention has been violated.

The Israeli Justice Ministry should open an investigation immediately and pursue it wherever it leads.

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