NEW YORK (JTA) — Israeli and Jewish aid officials are denying an Israeli TV report alleging that Ethiopian immigrant women have been coerced into taking contraceptive shots.
The report, which aired Saturday night on Israeli Educational Television, charged that coercive contraception is behind a 50 percent decline in the Ethiopian birth rate in Israel over the last decade.
Ethiopian women interviewed in the program, called “Vacuum” and hosted by Gal Gabbai, said they were coerced into receiving injections of Depo-Provera, a long-acting birth control drug, both at Jewish-run health clinics in Ethiopia and after their move to Israel.
Rachel Mangoli, executive director of the WIZO chapter in Katz Village, told the TV show that she realized something was amiss when during a full year in her Ethiopian program just one Ethiopian baby was born.
“I went to the health clinic and I was told that Ethiopian immigrants were given the contraception because they couldn’t be relied upon to take the pills every day,” Mangoli said.
In the report, a woman identified as S. said she was told at the Jewish aid compound in Gondar, Ethiopia, “If you don’t get the shot, we won’t give you a ticket.”
She recalled, “I didn’t want to take it. They wanted me to take it. But I didn’t know it was a contraceptive,” she said. “I thought it was an immunization.”
Another Ethiopian interviewed for the program, Amawaish Alane, said, “We said we won’t accept the shot. They told us, ‘You won’t immigrate to Israel. You also won’t come into this clinic. You won’t get help and medical treatment.’ ”
“We had no choice,” Alane said. “That’s why we took the shot. We could only get out with their permission.”
The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, which runs the health clinics in Ethiopia for prospective immigrants to Israel, says it offers contraception among its array of services but that it is purely voluntary.
“At no time did JDC coerce anyone into engaging at family planning at its clinics. Those options were totally voluntary and offered to women who requested it,” a JDC spokesman in New York said. “They chose the form of contraceptive based on being fully informed of all the options available to them.”
Dr. Rick Hodes, the medical director of JDC’s operations in Ethiopia, said injectable contraceptives are the option of choice in Ethiopia. "They are easy, culturally preferred, and offer the ability to be on birth control without a woman informing her husband, which is an issue here," Hodes told JTA. "Our clinic offers both birth control pills and injectable contraception. If a woman prefers another method of contraception, such as implantable or tubal ligation, we send them to facilities down the road in the city of Gondar for this."
The TV program alleged that coercive contraceptive tactics continued once the Ethiopians immigrated to Israel, where health clinics have been administering the contraceptive shots. The shots, which must be taken every three months, normally are given to women who cannot be relied upon to take daily pills, such as the mentally ill, according to health experts cited in the program.
The TV show sent a hidden camera into an Israeli health clinic, where an employee told the undercover reporter that Ethiopian women are given the contraceptive shots “because they forget,” “explanations are difficult for them” and “they essentially don’t understand anything.”
The Israeli Health Ministry has denied any systematic suppression of Ethiopian pregnancy or coerced contraception.
Watch the show here (Hebrew):