When Julie James found out she was pregnant in 1989, she concocted an herbal concoction to terminate the pregnancy.
Abortion was legal and accessible, but James was a herbalist – she had studied at the California School of Herbal Studies and her job was to use plants as alternative health treatments for patients. Her curiosity, therefore, prompted her to try herbs instead. But the method made her sick and didn’t terminate the pregnancy, she said, so she ended up having a medical abortion.
James, who still practices in Long Beach, Calif., said that instead of recommending herbs to terminate pregnancy, she is now “trying to talk people out of it.”
Her warning comes as many online vendors have proposed herbal remedies as a way to end unwanted pregnancies after the Supreme Court ruled in Roe v. Wade had picked up.
Information about herbs and plants said to help induce abortions – such as Foods like pennyroyal, mugwort and high doses of vitamin C have been shared widely on a variety of social media platforms, including TikTok, spurred by new fears of restricted access to abortion.
But even people who have used these herbs themselves are also coming forward and sharing their stories online to convince people not to consider the method.
Using herbs to terminate a pregnancy can be harmful. For example, overconsumption of pennyroyal and mugwort can lead to liver failure, according to Ryan Marino, medical director of toxicology and addiction at Cleveland University Hospitals.
Marino said he’s seen several extreme cases of herbal poisoning in his patients, including some who suffered seizures. Pennyroyal is particularly dangerous, he said.
“Even in cases where people don’t develop symptoms or aren’t hospitalized, it’s associated with long-term cancer risk,” Marino said. “It’s a known human carcinogen, and every time these molecules are in your body, they do something bad there.”
Marino said it was difficult to find data on the prevalence of attempted herbal abortions. Unless a woman tells a doctor that she has ingested a particular herb, it is difficult to link specific symptoms to its consumption.
Moms who have tried using herbs in the past hope their children never do
Rachel Morgan, 43, said she turned to herbs in 2006 when she experienced a miscarriage. She believes the blue and black cohosh she consumed may have helped her pass tissues faster.
But Morgan, of San Jose, Calif., said she doesn’t recommend the practice and is shocked by the misinformation she sees on social media about herbal abortifacients, or substances that can help induce abortions.
“I’m not sure what’s more scary, the herbs that people might take or the other desperate measures they’ll take if they don’t have the herbs to take,” she said.
I’m not sure which is more scary, the herbs people might take or the other desperate measures they will take if they don’t have the herbs to take
-Rachel Morgan, who used herbs in 2006
Morgan is also concerned that her 20-year-old daughter is being exposed to this misinformation on social media. “I told her, ‘You can’t count on that. You can’t count on your friends to count on it,'” Morgan said. “‘If you need help, come and talk to me.'”
Rebecca, a 47-year-old mother of three who asked to be given her first name for fear of losing her job, also said she was concerned about the misinformation about herbal abortions that was spreading online.
Rebecca, who hails from New York, said she attempted an abortion when she was 15 using pennyroyal and tansy that she bought at a local store. She didn’t have the money or transportation for a surgical abortion, Rebecca said, so she searched an encyclopedia for information on various herbs, including abortifacients.
“It just made me really sick,” she said. “I stayed pregnant and ended up having to have a medical abortion.”
Rebecca said she hopes that if her sons and their partners ever need to terminate a pregnancy, they will come to her for help rather than turning to the internet for advice.
Combat misinformation about herbal abortions
Even social media posts that respond to misinformation can further spread those untruths rather than raise awareness about safe abortion options, according to Nina Reddy, Access Reproductive Care Southeast’s outreach coordinator. The organization funds and supports people in the South who wish to have abortions or other health services for women.
Reddy said local organizations like hers still plan to help people have safe abortions, even those living in banned states, by helping them secure funding, transportation and escort services.
“If the common narrative out there is that if Roe is gutted for an abortion, the first resort is to harm yourself and have an unsafe abortion, then that’s going to set us back years and years,” Reddy said. “It’s so important to get information out there.”
Though she’s dedicated her career to alternative herbal remedies, James also said she doesn’t want anyone to think it’s appropriate or safe to use herbs for abortions.
“We need chemical and medical abortions because these herbs are not enough,” she said.
TikTok, where some videos on the subject have garnered millions of views, has blocked several hashtags related to “plant-based abortions” over the past two weeks.
In an email, a TikTok spokesperson said the platform is “taking action against content that violates our community guidelines on medical misinformation.” TikTok said it’s removing content and redirecting relevant search results for the hashtags #herbalabortion, #pennyroyalteaabortion, and #mugwortabortion.
As early as Friday, many of the videos containing these hashtags were removed.
YouTube also said Thursday it would take a harder line on abortion-related misinformation. The video platform said it would remove videos and other content that instructed on unsafe abortion methods or made false claims about abortion safety.
https://www.nbcnews.com/health/health-news/women-ve-tried-herbal-abortions-urge-others-not-follow-lead-rcna39563 Women who have tried “herbal abortions” urge others not to follow their example