After the recent Supreme Court ruling overturning federal abortion rights, people took to the streets to protest. In several places, police attacked protesters with chemical weapons in the form of tear gas. In Arizona, law enforcement even fired rounds from the windows of government buildings.
An inherent irony of this violence is that chemical weapons can cause spontaneous abortions, commonly known as miscarriages. In other words, law enforcement agents are using dangerous and unregulated weapons against unarmed civilians, possibly violating the human rights of protesters by terminating pregnancies that the Supreme Court has ruled same protesters have no constitutional right to end their lives.
Researchers elsewhere in the world have identified associations between chemical weapons and miscarriages. United Nations monitors have recorded miscarriages after Israeli police used tear gas on Palestinian civilians during the 1988 uprisings, leading to stricter rules on when weapons should be used. Toxicology researchers led by Andrei Tchernitchin of the University of Chile found enough evidence linking spontaneous abortion to a type of tear gas to convince the Chilean government to suspend the use of tear gas in 2011. And the Nobel Peace Prize-winning organization Physicians for Human Rights argued in 2012 that Bahrain violated UN guidelines on the use of chemical weapons, in part based on increased miscarriages .
Under no circumstances should these weapons be used on anyone. The 1925 Geneva Protocol was intended to prohibit the military use of chemical weapons in wartime. However, the relevant treaties do not extend to nations using such weapons against their own people. This means that police and other government forces are free to fire tear gas at unarmed civilians on behalf of law enforcement, while soldiers could be prosecuted for war crimes if they do the same with armed fighters.
It is essentially legal for police to endanger pregnancies by assaulting protesters with probable abortions.
Tear gas is a euphemism for several crowd control chemicals (another euphemism) containing chlorine, including CS (oh-chlorobenzylidene malononitrile), CR (dibenzoxazepine), CX (phosgene oxime) and CN (chloroacetophenone). Although all of these compounds cause tears to be produced in the eyes, they primarily activate pain receptors and cause victims to vomit and cough. Police claim to use these chemical weapons on crowds to disperse them, but the physical results often include disorientation, panic and respiratory problems.
The most commonly used tear gas is CS, named after its discoverers Ben Corson and Roger Stoughton, who created it in 1928. important and measured their responses, a test that led the CDC to declare CS “immediately dangerous to life or health.” Outside of this (arguably unethical) experiment, chemical weapons have mostly been used on the general public without testing to determine the harm they could cause to anyone who is not a valid young cisgender male.
While researchers and human rights organizations are clear about the link between tear gas and miscarriages, How? ‘Or’ What it works is much harder to identify.
“Tear gas contains so many components that any one of them could potentially harm the fetus,” says Rohini Haar, a physician with Physicians for Human Rights and a faculty member at the University of California, Berkeley. “Dissecting the impact of tear gas from the many confounding factors is going to be difficult – stress, mental health issues, impacts from arrest and other cartridge components other than the CS compound are nearly impossible.”
In other words, the chemical component CS itself may not cause miscarriage, but tear gas is so obviously harmful to physical and mental health that it matters little from a human rights perspective. ‘man. A weapon that stresses a person’s body or mind so much that they abort spontaneously is in no way better than a chemical that does the same through a more direct biochemical process.
It is also unethical to test chemical weapons on pregnant women in the laboratory, adds Haar: “A randomized controlled trial is not possible here. To put this into perspective, I’m not sure we need hard “evidence” that this is a huge problem with tear gas itself causing miscarriages – there are plenty of reasons why which we must regulate and limit it, this concern among them.
The US government does not regulate the use of chemical weapons on its own people. Even senators have criticized the lack of information available on the use of tear gas, in particular the many issues related to their safety.
This lack of regulation means that, in some cases, police are buying increasingly powerful chemical weapons to use on crowds. The Portland, Oregon, Chemical Weapons Research Group has documented many types of weapons used in the 2020 uprisings against police brutality in the United States, including military-grade smoke grenades and versions of tear gas containing powdered oleoresin capsicum (OC, the same ingredient in pepper sprays, marketed by some companies as “panic powder”). These increased power weapons were not documented in protests prior to 2020.
These compounds can disrupt endocrine processes and reproductive organs. Protesters reported irregular and disrupted periods after police gassed them.
As New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez pointed out on Twitter, “Forced pregnancy is a crime against humanity.” Forced abortion is also a crime against humanity, as established by the UN People have already been arrested for having miscarried, raising fears that police or prosecutors could blame a protester if tear gas cause their miscarriage. The “qualified immunity” policy protects police from lawsuits alleging excessive force and other forms of violence, meaning a person who loses a pregnancy to tear gas can have no legal recourse.
The police response to protests following the police killings of George Floyd, Michael Brown, Breonna Taylor and other black people also underscores that chemical and abortive weapons are being used in a discriminatory way against black protesters.
To be clear, chemical weapons would violate human rights even if they did not cause miscarriages, and pregnant women have a constitutionally protected right to participate in protests. The same politicians and judges who call themselves “pro-life” are happy to sanction police violence against protesters, to the point that this violence could end pregnancies. Forced abortion is just as much a violation of human rights as forced birth or involuntary pregnancy, even – perhaps especially – when performed in the name of the law.
The author would like to thank Dr. Kathryn Clancy of the University of Illinois Urbana Champaign for her assistance with the biochemical literature on the effects of chemical weapons.