Tear gas deployed on protesters in Indianapolis and its impact on reproductive health

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Some names have been withheld per request

On May 29, 30 and 31, the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department (IMPD) deployed tear gas on Black Lives Matter protesters in Indianapolis.

On June 18, a federal lawsuit was filed by American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana on behalf of Indy10 Black Lives Matter and three individual protesters against the City of Indianapolis over use of tear gas and other crowd control methods. 

Since then, those who protested in Indianapolis who were tear-gassed have reported that tear gas has negatively affected their reproductive health.

Kasidy Yeley attended the protests and was tear-gassed by IMPD. Prior to being tear-gassed, Yeley did not have irregular periods or severe menstrual symptoms. 

After being tear-gassed, she had an “unusually heavy” period, increased cramping, “abnormal” back pain, and increased blood clotting. Two months after being tear-gassed, she reported “continued cramps that are worse than what I [Yeley] was used to.”

One woman who attended the protests, Isabella, a healthcare worker, got her period a week early after being tear-gassed and found that it was heavier than usual.

“It was longer than normal and very, very heavy,” Isabella said. “I don’t usually bleed through, but I was bleeding through super tampons.”

Isabella’s girlfriend, who was also tear-gassed by IMPD, started her period a week late and experienced worse menstrual symptoms, such as nausea, cramps, headache and fatigue.

Two months later, they both are still having menstrual issues over two months after being tear-gassed. Isabella and her girlfriend have had heavier and more painful periods, late periods, and increased nausea, all of which they only experienced after being tear-gassed.

Another woman, who was tear-gassed multiple times on May 31 by IMPD and received chemical burns, started her period 11 days early.

Alongside her early period, her menstrual symptoms worsened, such as increased mood changes and blood clotting. Since her first period after being tear-gassed, her periods have been irregular and had increased spotting.

“Sometimes [my period] is two to three times [a month] or sometimes I just don’t have one,” she said.

One woman got her period on June 1, the day after being tear-gassed by IMPD and two weeks early. With this period, she experienced severe cramping and clotting, which were uncommon symptoms for her. After her period ended on June 6, it started again two days later, with more clotting and cramping.

Since then, she missed her period in July, despite her periods being regular prior to being tear-gassed.

Another woman, who was tear-gassed on May 31, got her period the next day, despite being on a 28-day birth control which allows her to skip her period. 

Since being tear-gassed, she has experienced five periods in a two-month period, along with spotting, despite her having no spotting prior to being tear-gassed by IMPD.

Along with these cases in Indianapolis, staff at Planned Parenthood North Central States (PPNCS) and the University of Minnesota—Twin Cities heard that those who were tear-gassed during recent protests throughout the nation experienced “changes to their periods or bleeding cycles.”

Due to these reports, PPNCS announced a research study “on the potential reproductive health impacts from exposure to chemical agents used by law enforcement, such as tear gas/canisters, smoke bombs/grenades, and pepper spray/mace.”

Studies in the past have found evidence that tear gas is an abortifacient. The Nation cited a study by the University of Chile that linked tear gas use to “miscarriage and fetal harm”, a Physicians for Human Rights report which found increased numbers of miscarriages in Bahrain in 2012 after tear gas use, and cited that “UN officials have connected tear gas to miscarriages in the Palestinian territories.”

Besides these studies, there has been limited research on the chemical agents used by law enforcement and its effects specifically on reproductive health.

“The full research study is anticipated to last about a year, however preliminary research findings will be released when possible, so our communities have the most up-to-date research on chemical agents used by law enforcement,” Emily Bisek, regional director of strategic communications of PPNCS said in an email.
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