In addition to long-known debilitating health reactions such as eye pain, coughing, and disorientation, evidence has begun to emerge that tear gas also harms sexual and reproductive health.
In April, the first comprehensive study on the effects of tear gas on reproductive health, conducted after last summer’s protest events in Portland, was published. The report found that nearly 900 people reported abnormal menstrual cycles after exposure to tear gas including intense cramping and bleeding that persisted days after exposure. Hundreds of others reported other negative health impacts. The new research, based on an online survey of more than 2,200 people, challenges claims that the health consequences of being teargassed are minor and temporary.
There is cause for significant concern of the impact of tear gas on the health of all individuals, particularly those of reproductive-age in the District.
In testimony to the DC Council in October 2020, Planned Parenthood of Metropolitan Washington, DC’s (PPMW) Medical Director and Vice President of Medical Affairs, Dr. Serina Floyd stated that “tear gas is a weapon of war that has no place on civilian streets and should not ever be used on anyone, particularly those exercising their right to protest in the District. PPMW is concerned about the use of tear gas in protests because of the many detrimental health effects it has been shown to have on skin, eye, respiratory, and gastrointestinal systems; effects that are intensified in those who already suffer from chronic medical conditions.”
We’ve also seen stark inequity in when weapons like tear gas are used. Throughout last summer, tear gas, pepper spray and rubber bullets were used violently against Black people peacefully protesting police violence near the White House and across DC. Yet, when white insurrectionists rioted at the Capitol on January 6th, they received different treatment.
The U.S. has a long history of reproductive violence towards Black and brown communities. The field of gynecology was pioneered by J. Marion Sims, who performed surgeries on enslaved people without anesthesia. The U.S government has also played a huge role in forced sterilization to Black, Latina, and Native American women. The use of tear gas is another layer of the reproductive harm that has been unleashed on Black and brown communities.
Devastating and ironic, but unfortunately, not shocking. Historically, harmful and violent tactics have been used to suppress Black-led movements for justice and social change. Tear gas remains a dangerous tool used to repress these movements.
We must recognize that waiting for more evidence to prove that there is a link between tear gas and reproductive health is unacceptable. The bottom line is that law enforcement should not violently harm people expressing their right to protest and speak their mind, including and especially in the fight for racial justice. We stand with our partners calling for the use of tear gas to end.
Have you experienced problems with menstruation or other health issues after being exposed to tear gas? Please consider sharing your story.