Although various home abortion methods are practiced by women of most every culture, their safety is often a matter of great controversy. In most cases, the human body is evolutionarily designed to hold on to pregnancy as long as possible in order to support the next generation, and home remedies usually need to be pretty strong to counter this. Use of concentrated herbal stimulants is one of the more popular options, though even herbs claiming to be “all natural” can have some serious side effects. Certain pharmaceutical drugs can also induce abortions at home, and women for centuries have tried a number of semi-surgical procedures. In nearly all cases, though, these cannot be considered “safe” unless done under the supervision of a trained medical professional. The side effects and potential risks can be life-threatening if things go wrong.
Herbal abortifacients, substances thought to be able to stimulate a miscarriage and end a pregnancy, have a long historical use as an alternative abortion option. Herbalists often claim that a number of different plants have this ability, including aloe, bitter apple, and ginger. Many women combine these herbs with emmenagogues, which are drugs that can induce menstruation and increase the chances of miscarrying.
Usually women will create a tea infusion to stimulate abortion, often in addition to placing herbs directly into their vaginas. Parsley is a common choice. This herb is frequently used in cooking and is also thought to be a mild emmenagogue, stimulating menstruation and contractions in the uterus. Taken as a tea, the herb is often combined with high doses of ascorbic acid, or vitamin C; the ascorbic acid is thought to increase estrogen levels and lead to a miscarriage. The mixture is usually drunk several times a day for several days until regular menstruation begins.
Even though many herbal abortifacients and emmenagogues can be purchased with little effort over the counter, this by no means ensures that they are safe or effective, in part because the concentrations needed to end pregnancy can have serious side effects for the woman. Many of these natural herbs are considered toxic when taken at high enough levels to stimulate abortion. In fact, such herbs may not actually be stimulating abortion so much as flooding the body with such high levels of poison that the pregnancy cannot be maintained.
Blue cohosh is a good example. This flowering herb is found naturally only in North America and has been in use since at least the 1800s for a variety of health reasons. A number of modern studies have found the plant to be toxic, however. One of the safety concerns is that it could reduce the ability of the heart to pump blood.
Another herb often associated with alternative herbal abortion techniques is pennyroyal. Women attempting at-home abortions have reportedly used both the oil and the leaves of this emmenagogue plant, though most medical practitioners agree that it is unsafe for all uses and can cause liver damage. Additionally, consumption of the concentrated oil may be lethal even when taken in small doses.
Other Side Effects
A number of other herbs popularly used for home abortions are also believed to be capable of causing an extensive range of serious side effects, including damage to the kidneys, excessive bleeding, or death. The risk of complications increases for women who have other medical conditions, such as diabetes or high blood pressure. Use of other over-the-counter or prescription drugs can also affect the potency of these herbal remedies and further increase the risk of serious harm. If abortion is successful, severe cramps and heavy bleeding are also likely to occur.
A number of home abortion methods center on pharmaceutical drugs. Women will either try to create their own cocktail of over-the-counter pills in order to stimulate contractions and menstruation or they will seek out specific abortifacients. The most effective and usually also safest of these are typically only available with a prescription, and they work by delivering calculated amounts of hormones to trigger a miscarriage. These aren’t legal in all countries, and even where they are they usually have to be taken within a certain number of weeks of conception in order to be effective. In addition, they usually have a number of relatively strict dosing requirements that have to be met exactly.
Risks and Precautions
By far the riskiest home abortion methods are those in which women attempt to surgically or semi-surgically remove the developing fetus. In the absence of medical training, these sorts of procedures often end very badly. Even if abortions are successful, women have an increased risk of hemorrhage and infection, both of which can be life-threatening.
The safety of nearly all at-home abortion methods remains unconfirmed by modern science and is mainly based on anecdotal evidence. The possibility that women could inadvertently do permanent damage to their bodies is one indication that these methods are not safe to try. It’s also important to note that many at-home abortion practices may be illegal, even in jurisdictions where medical abortion is otherwise legal.