Are 'herbal abortions' safe? Doctors warn against viral TikTok trend following Roe v Wade overturn 

The overturn of the Roe v Wade ruling has led to an increase in 'herbal abortions' among American women (Image via AP photos/Jacquelyn Martin)
The overturn of the Roe v Wade ruling has led to an increase in 'herbal abortions' among American women (Image via AP photos/Jacquelyn Martin)

Abortions induced by ingesting unregulated herbal concoctions can be dangerous, but do-it-yourself recipes for self-regulated miscarriages have been doing the rounds on TikTok, and doctors are warning against it.

These controversial and potentially fatal videos have been gaining momentum since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v Wade on June 24 - a landmark ruling that dismantled the constitutional right to abortion.

The Supreme Court decision led to a violent outburst on social media, and people on TikTok and Twitter have been posting recipes for herbal teas that can induce abortions.

Recently, a TikTok video went viral that promoted the use of pennyroyal and mugwort-without any specified dosage, giving the impression that consuming these herbs can induce harmless abortions.


Doctors warn against herbal abortions and their fatal consequences

Doctors are warning against the use of herbs like pennyroyal to induce abortions 'naturally' (image via Pinterest/John Stephenson and James Morss Churchill)
Doctors are warning against the use of herbs like pennyroyal to induce abortions 'naturally' (image via Pinterest/John Stephenson and James Morss Churchill)

Dr. Jen Gunter, an obstetrician/gynecologist who has written books on women’s health, explained that though the myth of safe, herbal abortion is pervasive, there is "no safe, effective method of inducing an abortion with botanicals.” she went on to explain that some concoctions may lead to abortion, but this is solely because it is poisonous to the woman's body.

An Iowa-based ER physician and medical toxicologist, Dr. Josh Trebach, replied to a tweet that promoted the use of pennyroyal and mugworth if you wanted a miscarriage. He advised people not to use pennyroyal as a "herbal abortion" recipe, as it is hazardous and can cause health hazards such as liver failure, seizures, and even death.

He tweeted that 'no herbs/plants are safer or more effective for abortions than misoprostol," mentioning a list of websites people could refer to for more information.

Generally, doctors and health experts recommend using only tested and regulated medication for abortion. It is better not to use any herbal recipes without sound medical guidance. There is insufficient evidence that pennyroyal is an efficient abortifacient. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), it is likely unsafe to ingest pennyroyal oil since it can cause “serious liver and kidney damage, as well as nervous system damage.” It further states:

“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 is gaining popularity for all the wrong reasons is parsley. This herb is recommended to be inserted and can be toxic if consumed in concentrated doses. In 2018, a pregnant Argentinian woman died due to septic shock and infection when she used parsley to end the pregnancy.

Dr. Cara Delaney, Assistant Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the University of Connecticut, said in an interview with Newsweek that she does not recommend using herbs to end a pregnancy if they can do so with a surgical procedure or by taking two drugs - mifepristone and misoprostol.

Medical abortions performed by taking these two drugs accounted for about 28% of early abortions in 2016, according to a recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.


'Herbal abortions' videos cause a wave of anger

After Dr. Trebach strongly warned against false information floating online regarding 'herbal abortions,' netizens came in support of him, slamming these baseless videos and requesting people to use discretion.

Another comment urged people to "research" rather than blindly trust what they see on TikTok.

Dr. Nisha Verma, a fellow at the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, said in a statement that people have been self-managing their abortions with the help of "community organizations and medical experts.” Some may turn to "unsafe abortion methods" since they feel they have no other options or act based on the information gathered on social media.

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Edited by Srijan Sen