Taking unregulated herbal cocktails to cause an abortion can be dangerous, obstetricians say. But recipes — some containing potentially toxic ingredients — for self-induced “miscarriages” have been circulating online since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade.
After the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade on June 24 — dismantling federal protection of the right to an abortion — posts began spreading online with home remedies and herbal concoctions that would purportedly cause a “miscarriage.”
Many of the posts — which are circulating on major platforms, including Facebook, Instagram and TikTok — provide potentially dangerous ingredients without specifying dosage amounts, giving the impression that abortions can be induced with herbs.
One Instagram post detailed a list of homeopathic ingredients and then said, with a winking emoji, “I mean how else will we avoid accidental miscarriages? You’re smart enough to do this too.”
“The myth of the safe, herbal abortion is pervasive,” Dr. Jen Gunter, an obstetrician/gynecologist who has written books on women’s health, explained in a Substack post addressing the issue. “It is a combination of two fallacies, appealing to the belief in the magical power of ancient remedies and that of course, natural is best.”
But, she said, “there are no safe, effective methods of inducing abortion with botanicals.”
While some of the concoctions might result in an abortion, that may just be a byproduct of poisoning in the woman’s body, she explained, since “many herbal abortifacients are quite literally poisons.”
For example, one of the most commonly promoted plants is pennyroyal, a type of mint introduced to the U.S. from Europe. As with many persistent claims on the internet, there’s a grain of truth here. Pennyroyal has historically been associated with abortions, dating back to ancient Greece.
But there’s insufficient evidence that pennyroyal can actually cause an abortion, according to the National Institutes of Health. Rather, the NIH’s National Library of Medicine says that it is likely unsafe to ingest pennyroyal oil because it can cause “serious liver and kidney damage, as well as nervous system damage.”
Further, the NIH says, “There is some evidence that pennyroyal oil can cause abortions by causing the uterus to contract. But the dose needed in order to cause an abortion could kill the mother or cause life-long kidney and liver damage.”
Another plant that’s been included in the lists on social media is parsley, which may sound innocuous but can be toxic if consumed in concentrated doses and is sometimes recommended to be inserted. A woman in Argentina reportedly died from septic shock and infection after trying to end a pregnancy using parsley in 2018.
Generally, doctors and health experts recommend using tested, regulated medications for abortions. Medical abortions, which are done by taking medicine rather than having a physical procedure, accounted for about 28% of early abortions in 2016, according to a recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. They are commonly performed by taking two drugs — mifepristone and misoprostol — which can be done at home.
“People have been self-managing their abortions for decades with the support of community organizations and medical experts,” Dr. Nisha Verma, a fellow at the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, said in a statement provided by the organization to FactCheck.org.
“We have seen that people can safely self-manage their abortions with medications like misoprostol. However, some people may also turn to unsafe abortion methods when they feel they have no other option or based on information they are gathering on social media,” she said.
“It is important for people to understand that social media posts can be unreliable and can sometimes propagate misinformation. Misinformation can be harmful because it may lead people to try to end their pregnancies in an unsafe way, potentially exposing them to serious bodily harm. While people can self-manage their abortions in a safe way, spreading misinformation about unsafe methods of abortion is incredibly dangerous,” Verma said.
Editor’s note: FactCheck.org is one of several organizations working with Facebook to debunk misinformation shared on social media. Our previous stories can be found here. Facebook has no control over our editorial content.
Kiely, Eugene and Lori Robertson. “What Happens if Roe v. Wade Is Overturned?” FactCheck.org. Updated 24 Jun 2022.
Gunter, Jen. “Don’t Take Advice from TikTok on Herbal Abortifacients.” Substack. 29 Jun 2022.
Nelson, Sarah. “Persephone’s seeds: Abortifacients and contraceptives in Ancient Greek medicine and their recent scientific appraisal.” 2009.
National Institutes of Health. National Library of Medicine. Pennyroyal. Updated Feb 13 2020.
Ciganda, Carmen and Amalia Laborde. “Herbal infusions used for induced abortion.” Journal of Toxicology: Clinical Toxicology. 5 Dec 2003.
Brennan, David. “Woman Dies After Using Parsley to Induce Miscarriage, First Death Since Argentina Senate Rejected Abortion Bill.” Newsweek. 15 Aug 2018.
Kaiser Family Foundation. “The Availability and Use of Medication Abortion.” 6 Apr 2022.
Jatlaoui, Tara, et al. “Abortion Surveillance — United States, 2016.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. 29 Nov 2019.
Verma, Nisha. Fellow, American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Statement emailed to FactCheck.org. 1 Jul 2022.