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Abortion Home Remedies: Know Your Options


If you’re experiencing an unintended pregnancy, know that you’re not alone, and you have options. You can safely and legally end your pregnancy if you want to.

This is still true, even after the United States Supreme Court voted in June 2022 to overturn Roe vs. Wade — the 1973 case that guaranteed the legal right to abortion.

However, in the wake of Roe‘s fall, many social media users concerned about increased restrictions around legal abortion have shared “advice” on how to self-manage your own.

While some tips are evidence-based — for example, many folks point out that self-managing an abortion via approved medication is safe, effective, and legal nationwide — many alleged “abortion home remedies” are under-researched.

They may be ineffective at best and life threatening at worst.

Some common “abortion home remedies” that people try include:

  • herbs and teas, including pennyroyal, mugwort, black cohosh, and parsley
  • physical exercises
  • self-injury
  • over-the-counter medications like vitamin C, caffeine pills, and birth control pills
  • alcohol and criminalized drugs

Read on to learn more about why attempting abortion via these “home remedies” can be harmful — and how to access safe alternatives, no matter where you live.

It’s difficult to quantify how many abortions take place globally. Estimates range from 56 million to 73 million abortions per year.

Of those, about 25 million are considered unsafe abortions. Unsafe abortion may lead to about 70,000 deaths and 5 million serious complications yearly.

Some of these abortions involve visiting traditional medicine practitioners or other community members who perform surgical procedures outside of a clinical setting.

Others are SMAs that may involve using ethnobotanical and folk remedies, including herbs and teas, or attempting self-injury.

This is nothing new: People have long used traditional medicine and other methods to induce abortions. But many of these practices are under-researched, and those studied are often found to be ineffective, unsafe, or both.

For example, one study found that people with uteruses who are not cisgender — including transgender men, genderqueer folks, and other gender-expansive people — reported high interest in SMA.

Of the people surveyed, 19% said they attempted an SMA without aid. Methods included taking herbs, causing physical trauma, using vitamin C, and using drugs or alcohol.

In a 2018 U.S. study, 55% of people who reported past attempts to self-abort said they used herbs or vitamins, while 36% said they used alcohol or non-pharmaceutical rugs.

A 2021 study found that U.S. youth experiencing homelessness often default to SMA using harmful methods like physical trauma, substance misuse, or intentional starvation.

Youth participants reported feeling that other abortion methods were too expensive or otherwise inaccessible due to their age or location.

One 2019 study among women across Mexico who had abortions found that it wasn’t uncommon for people to use traditional medicines like herbs alone or alongside pharmaceutical abortion medication, especially in abortion-hostile areas.

Many vitamins and herbs are touted as abortifacients (abortion-causing substances) when taken orally in high doses, brewed into teas, or inserted into the vagina. However, there is little evidence to support their use.

In one 2021 study, about half of participants who attempted SMAs used vitamin C, parsley, Dong Quai, rose hips, ginger root, chamomile, and black cohosh. Others took analgesics, antibiotics, birth control pills, and caffeine pills.

None of these substances are approved or recommended for inducing abortion, and some can cause serious harm — even in small amounts.

Some of the most commonly attempted “home remedies” include pennyroyal, black cohosh, mugwort, parsley, and vitamin C.

Pennyroyal oil and pennyroyal tea

Pennyroyal is the name given to a herbal extract or oil derived from a few plants that belong to the mint family: Mentha pulegium or Hedeoma pulegoides. It’s long been used in folk medicine to induce periods and abortions.

However, pennyroyal oil can cause serious side effects, even at doses as low as one tablespoon (15 mL). Side effects of ingesting pennyroyal oil — or tea made with pennyroyal oil — may include:

  • fainting
  • seizures
  • coma
  • cardiopulmonary collapse (sudden failure of the heart and lungs)
  • liver injury, liver necrosis, or liver failure
  • renal insufficiency
  • multi-organ failure
  • death

In addition to its potential to harm you, some research suggests that pennyroyal oil does not have the ability to induce an abortion or affect contractions of the uterus.

Therefore, consuming pennyroyal to attempt an SMA is not a good idea.

Black cohosh

Also known as snakeroot, black bugbane, or rattleweed, black cohosh (Actaea racemosa or Cimicifuga racemosa) has been used in traditional Indigenous medicine for centuries.

It’s been suggested that black cohosh may treat pain, fever, cough, pneumonia, and menstrual irregularities, induce labor and support reproductive health.

Some people take black cohosh supplements to treat menstrual cramps and menopause symptoms.

However, there isn’t much evidence supporting any of these claims. Plus, research into the side effects of black cohosh is limited.

There are some weak associations between black cohosh supplements and gastrointestinal upset, breast pain, infection, abnormal vaginal bleeding, liver damage, cramps, headaches, and rashes.

There is no evidence that black cohosh at any dosage can induce an abortion, but there is evidence that taking it can cause side effects. Black cohosh is not a reliable or recommended method of SMA.

Mugwort

Mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris) also has a storied history as an Indigenous medicine, with some suggesting that it can treat digestive problems, menstruation irregularities, high blood pressure, and stress.

However, little scientific research supports using mugwort for any of these conditions.

Some people take mugwort to attempt abortions, as it’s been found to potentially influence miscarriage and affect animals’ pregnancy outcomes. That doesn’t mean it’s effective at causing abortions in humans, though.

The herb is generally recognized as safe when taken as an over-the-counter supplement, but large doses of some variations of mugwort may cause side effects.

These include:

  • nausea and vomiting
  • nervous system damage
  • high blood pressure
  • stomach cramps
  • brain injury
  • vertigo
  • insomnia and restlessness
  • urine retention
  • seizures
  • tremors

Mugwort is also said to have high allergen potential and may cause allergic reactions and anaphylactic shock. It’s not a safe or effective method of SMA.

Parsley

Parsley — and oils that are drawn from it — have been used in SMA attempts for many years. However, taking concentrated parsley oils has been associated with hemorrhage (severe bleeding), neurotoxicity, and death.

That’s because oils derived from parsley’s leaves or seeds contain high levels of a compound called parsley apiole, which can cause poisoning in large doses.

Research has found that parsley apiole poisoning can lead to miscarriage, but it comes with other side effects that can be fatal, such as:

  • fever
  • severe abdominal pain
  • vaginal bleeding
  • convulsions
  • vomiting and diarrhea

In one 2021 study, taking parsley apiole caused fatal liver and kidney toxicity in every mouse that took it. While results of animal trials don’t always apply to humans, liver and kidney damage may still be reasonable concerns.

Parsley also contains a compound called myristicin. Like apiole, myristicin can cause uterine contractions and may be associated with miscarriage.

However, parsley-based treatments are not recommended or proven to be safe methods for SMA due to the risk of side effects. It is also not clear how effective parsley is in inducing abortion.

(Remember that most studies involve concentrated oils derived from parsley’s leaves or seeds — not parsley itself.)

Over-the-counter and prescription medications

It’s never a good idea to take more than the recommended dose of any over-the-counter or prescription medication. Even vitamins and supplements can pose risks when taken in excess.

Those that don’t cause direct harm may just be ineffective. For example, despite some myths, vitamin C cannot cause an abortion.

You should also never use alcohol or criminalized drugs to try and induce abortion, nor should you engage in self-injury. You deserve safe, compassionate, judgment-free abortion care — and options are available.

Here’s a look at some of the biggest risks associated with common abortion “home remedies.”

Incomplete abortion

An incomplete abortion is an abortion that didn’t completely work. This means that products of the pregnancy remain in your body, so you’ll likely need medical treatment to complete the abortion.

Untreated, an incomplete abortion can lead to heavy bleeding and potentially life-threatening infections.

Infection

All surgeries involve a risk of infection, which is why medical facilities work hard to keep their environments as sterile as possible.

Some abortion home remedies call for inserting an instrument through your cervix to reach your uterus. This is extremely dangerous, even if you think you’ve properly sterilized the instrument.

An infection in your vagina, cervix, or uterus can cause permanent damage, including infertility. An infection in this area can also spread to your bloodstream, causing life threatening blood poisoning.

Hemorrhage

Hemorrhage refers to any sort of major blood loss. If you or someone without medical training tries to perform a surgical abortion on you, you run the risk of accidentally severing a major blood vessel, causing internal bleeding.

Keep in mind that internal bleeding may not be visible until it’s too late.

Scarring

In addition to hemorrhaging, a surgical abortion provided by someone without medical training can result in scarring.

This scarring can affect your external and internal genitalia, resulting in infertility and other health conditions.

Toxicity

Herbal remedies may seem harmless because they’re “natural.” But even common herbs can have powerful effects and quickly become toxic.

Not to mention, most herbal abortion methods require consuming much more than the recommended dosage.

If you ingest more than the amount known to be safe for humans, your liver has to work overtime to filter out extra toxins and other compounds from the herbs. This can lead to liver damage or failure.

Many people who attempt to self-manage an abortion via a home remedy do so because abortion is illegal or restricted where they live. And since it’s difficult to research illegal activities, we don’t have much data about the effectiveness of abortion home remedies.

One small 2020 study based in Texas, where abortion access is limited for many, surveyed people who attempted abortions on their own.

Many of them tried home remedies — primarily herbs and vitamins (43%), birth control pills or other medications, certain foods, and alcohol or drugs — instead of or alongside abortion medication.

None of the people who reported using home remedies alone said they were successful in ending their pregnancies.

Those who used home remedies often tried several methods over weeks without success before visiting an abortion provider in person.

Older research from rural Tanzania asked women who presented to medical facilities with incomplete abortions about what abortion methods they’d tried.

Two-thirds reported they had attempted an abortion outside of a clinical setting or without pharmaceutical medications. More than a third said they had used plants.

The researchers found that of 21 plant species participants reported using, 16 did have some ability to encourage uterine contractions. However, using plants for abortion runs a high risk of complications, including incomplete abortions that require follow-up medical care.

Overall, most abortion home remedies appear not only dangerous but ineffective as well.

If you’ve decided that an abortion is right for you, there are safe, legal alternatives to herbs, self-injury, and out-of-clinic procedures — and you can still self-manage your abortion at home.

There are two main types of abortion:

  • Medical abortion. A medical abortion involves taking pills or dissolving medication in your vagina or inner cheek. Medication abortions can be safely self-managed at home.
  • Surgical abortion. A surgical abortion is a medical procedure involving suction. It’s done by a provider in a medical facility, and you can usually go home after the procedure so long as you bring someone to drive you.

When considering your options, remember that medical abortions are usually only recommended up until week 12 of pregnancy.

Most states don’t allow surgical abortions after 20–24 weeks or the end of the second trimester. They’re usually only done after this point if the pregnancy poses a serious health risk.

Learn more about the different types of abortion, including timeline and cost information.

If you’ve already taken steps to have an abortion using a method that may pose risk, make sure to listen to your body. If something doesn’t feel right, seek medical attention as soon as possible.

Go to the emergency room if you notice any of the following symptoms:

  • bleeding that soaks through a maxi pad in under one hour
  • bloody vomit, stool, or urine
  • fever or chills
  • yellowing of your skin or eyes
  • severe pain in your abdomen or pelvis
  • vomiting and loss of appetite
  • loss of consciousness
  • inability to wake up or stay awake
  • sweaty, cold, bluish, or pale skin
  • confusion

Several U.S. organizations can offer guidance on your options, help you find a provider, and assist with covering the costs of an abortion.

Information and services

If you’re unsure where to start, consider reaching out to the nearest Planned Parenthood clinic, which you can find here.

Clinic staff can counsel you on your options and help you weigh the pros and cons of each.

Once you’ve decided, they can provide you with discreet, lower-cost services, including medical and surgical abortions.

Other options include INeedAnA.com and the National Abortion Federation’s U.S. Abortion Clinic Locator.

The National Abortion Federation also operates a hotline that can help you find an abortion provider or financial support for your abortion.

Financial assistance

Abortion funds are organizations that help people pay for abortion care. They can help you find abortion providers and arrange appointments, too.

Some abortion funds you can contact for help include:

The above list is far from complete, as many local and regional communities have abortion funds. The National Network of Abortion Funds can connect you with local organizations serving your area.

Telemedicine

Depending on where you live, a physician or abortion provider may be able to prescribe you abortion medication, and you can take it in their office or at home. You can also order pills online.

Pills ordered online appear just as safe as those administered in person.

One US-based study analyzed pills sent from 16 websites that provide medication abortion. The websites all mailed safe, legitimate medicines as advertised, and they usually arrived in a timely manner.

Plus, a 2017 study involving 1,000 Irish women found that medical abortions done with the help of an organization called Women on Web were highly effective.

Those who did have complications were well-equipped to recognize them, and nearly all participants who had complications reported seeking medical treatment.

Abortion access varies widely by country.

The Center for Reproductive Rights offers more information on abortion laws worldwide, along with a map you can use to check the abortion laws in your country.

If you live in Canada, you can call the National Abortion Federation hotline at 877-257-0012 for a referral to a clinic near you.

British Pregnancy Advisory Services can offer more information about your abortion options if you live in the United Kingdom. They also provide abortion services and support to international patients.

Humans have used ethnobotanical practices and other methods to end their pregnancies for centuries. Today, marginalized communities and people living in areas that criminalize abortion are most likely to try methods like these.

Since the fall of the right to legal abortion in the US, well-meaning folks have increasingly shared advice on “abortion home remedies” via social media.

However, few of these methods — including herbs, injury, alcohol, or drugs that have not been FDA-approved — have been studied for safety or effectiveness. Those that have been studied have generally proven risky and could harm you.

That means it’s best to avoid them. However, this doesn’t mean that you are out of options.

If you need an abortion, you can access safe alternatives like FDA-approved medication (either obtained from an in-person or telehealth provider or ordered online) or a procedure at a verified clinic.

Regardless of the laws and regulations in your area, you deserve the right to make decisions about what happens to your body.


Rose Thorne is an associate editor at Healthline Nutrition. A 2021 graduate of Mercer University with a degree in journalism and women’s & gender studies, Rose has bylines for Business Insider, The Washington Post, The Lily, Georgia Public Broadcasting, and more. Rose’s proudest professional accomplishments include being a college newspaper editor-in-chief and working at Fair Fight Action, the national voting rights organization. Rose covers the intersections of gender, sexuality, and health, and is a member of The Association of LGBTQ+ Journalists and the Trans Journalists Association. You can find Rose on Twitter.





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