Risky Herbal ‘DIY’ Abortions Circulate After Roe v. Wade Leak

Pending the possible demise of Roe v. Wade, social media users are endorsing herbs and plants believed to induce abortion, despite a critical lack of evidence clarifying their efficacy and safety.

The recent leak of a draft Supreme Court majority opinion in favor of the downing of Roe v. Wade — the landmark 1973 ruling that safeguards women’s abortion rights — has sparked nationwide protests and disagreements. The news further spurred the rush of abortion pills and a wave of searches for sterilization procedures for women.

Rising fears about a post-Roe America also led to herbal abortions emerging as a means, in the event that certain states resort to severely restricting or completely banning access to medical abortions.

Abortion rights advocates demonstrate late into the night outside the Supreme Court building on May 4, 2022 in Washington, D.C.
Sarah Silbiger/Getty Images

On TikTok and Twitter, countless users shared lists of alleged natural abortions and homemade concoctions. Suggested forms of intake ranged from brewing the herbs into tea to smoking them.

dr. Cara Delaney, assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Connecticut, said there is “no evidence of safety or effectiveness” nor “quality or safety regulations” for homeopathic abortion treatments.

“I don’t recommend using herbal or homeopathic methods to terminate a pregnancy if we have ways to terminate a pregnancy with misoprostol, with mifepristone, with the surgical procedure that is still legal and safe,” he said. Delaney. news week

On TikTok, a video that was viewed more than 71,000 times showed a list of plants that “can be used as an alternative” in early pregnancy termination.

“Investigate accordingly,” the video reads. “Pay attention to the dosage limits for each, and if you’re taking any medications, check to see if they interact.”

Another, viewed more than 201,000 times, contained an ironic warning to “be careful” because the herbs listed are “unsafe.”

“In large amounts, they can ‘accidentally’ cause miscarriage,” the video reads, with a small disclaimer that “they can also cause organ failure, be safe.”

A TikTok dispensary was selling mugwort — commonly referred to as a natural abortifacient — for half price “until women in this country can rely on something else.”

On Twitter, users circulated a “do-it-yourself” guide to herbal abortion published in the early 2000s. The detailed guide to plant-based abortifacients was compiled by an author who appears to be using a pseudonym.

The push to promote herbal alternatives has sparked criticism, as has reflection on what American reproductive rights have accomplished.

“Dear friends. I love you. I know you’re scared. I know you might be reaching for straw right now. I understand,” tweeted @UrsulaV.

“That said, if I see any of you suggest pennyroyal as a DIY abortion, I lose my *** so hard that Almighty God can’t find my *** after that.”

“Pennyroyal – and many other abortifacient herbs – as poisonous as f***,” they wrote in a follow-up tweet. “Pick the dosage just right and it might kill the fetus before it kills you. Get it wrong and enjoy massive cascading of organ failure!

“So what’s the dosage? I don’t know! And no one else too!”

Famous TikTok collector Alexis Nikole Nelson posted a video that garnered more than 700,000 views, explaining the fate of Roe v. Wade while picking mugwort.

“In light of the recent news, I’m really concerned that people are going to turn to our friends like mugwort or parsley or carrots to try and tackle a health problem that our government has decided it needs to put its face in.” said Nelson.

“Now I am in no way advocating the use of herbal abortion,” she continued. “That can be dangerous, it’s very easy to, one, not make it work, or two, to get incredibly sick of them.

“But I also want people to recognize that making abortions illegal won’t reduce the number of abortions.”

Most of the social media users who spread herbs with alleged abortifacient properties urged followers to do their own research, although doing so would prove difficult.

While a variety of plants and herbal blends have been used in different parts of the world to terminate pregnancies in the past, conclusive scientific research on their effects is lacking.

A 2003 academic article titled: Herbal Infusions Used for Induced Abortion by Carmen Ciganda and Amalia Laborde describes a retrospective study of women who have taken herbal infusions with the intention of terminating their pregnancy.

The study – conducted between 1986 and 1999 by the Poison Control Center in Montevideo, Uruguay – identified a total of 86 cases, all of which were in the first trimester of pregnancy.

Of the 30 plant species involved, the most common were rue, parsley and the over-the-counter herbal product Carachipita, which counts pennyroyal in its ingredients. (Rue, parsley and pennyroyal were among the plants promoted online in the past week.)

Fourteen of the patients had multiple organ failure — including four who took rue alone, three rue with parsley, one rue with fennel, and one who took Carachipita.

Five deaths were recorded within the multi-organ system failure cases: two who ingested rue alone, two who ingested rue with parsley and fennel, and one who ingested Carachipita. (One fatality also used “self-inflicted instrumental manipulations,” although the study didn’t specify which ones.)

Twenty-three cases resulted in abortion: nine involving rue; sifting with parsley; four with Carachipita; and three with mixtures of different plants. Of the patients who only took herbal infusions, six experienced an abortion in the context of multiple organ system failure, while seven developed liver or blood disorders.

The authors of the article wrote that the report’s results are “inconclusive and difficult to generalize,” adding that “[f]further research on each individual plant species is needed.”

While the future of Roe v. Wade is poised, Dr. Cara Delaney Says Abortion Will Remain Legal In The U.S

“Abortion is still legal, clinics are still open and people can make an appointment,” Delaney said. news week

“There are also many organizations that have plans for the opportunity to nullify Roe v. Wade. And when they plan that, they really want people to still have access to care, to have abortions in a safe way.”

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