The Health Ministry has ordered doctors to
review how they prescribe a birth control drug, after accusations it was being
used to control the population of Ethiopian immigrants.
Ethiopian women had been coerced into receiving Depo-Provera arose in Israeli
media a few years ago and most recently in a TV documentary linking the
community's falling birthrate to over-prescription of the injectable
After a civil rights group accused it of racism, the
health ministry ordered doctors not to renew Depo-Provera prescriptions unless
they were convinced patients understood the ramifications, according to a letter
from the ministry posted on the group's website on Monday.
Director-General Roni Gamzu said the decision did not imply he accepted the
allegations by the Association of Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI).
letter to Gamzu two weeks ago, ACRI said "the sweeping use of Depo-Provera among
Ethiopian women raises heavy suspicions that we are talking about a deliberate
policy to control and monitor fertility among this community.
... point to a paternalistic, haughty and racist attitude that limits
considerably the freedom of Ethiopian immigrants to choose the birth control
that is medically suitable for them." ACRI said statistics from a major Israeli
health provider showed that it had administered Depo-Provera injections to 5,000
women in 2008, 57 percent of whom were Ethiopian.
Israel has denied any
policy to curb the birthrate among the 100,000 Ethiopian Jews who have moved to
Israel since chief rabbis determined in 1973 that the community had biblical
Some Ethiopian Jews have made it into Israel's parliament and
officer ranks in the military, but complaints of discrimination in schooling and
housing are common.
According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration,
which approved Depo-Provera in 1992, its prolonged use may reduce bone density
and that it should only be used for longer than two years if other birth control
methods prove inadequate.
The documentary, broadcast on Israeli
Educational Television, shows a nurse saying on a hidden camera that Ethiopian
women were given Depo-Provera because they "don't understand anything" and would
forget to take birth control pills.
Rick Hodes, medical director in
Ethiopia for the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, a
non-governmental organization that helps to facilitate immigration to Israel,
denied the accusation that women are coerced into receiving the injections
before leaving for the Jewish state.
"Injectable drugs have always been
the most popular form of birth control in Ethiopia, as well as among women in
our program," Hodes wrote on Twitter.
"Our family program is, and
always (has) been, purely voluntary."