What Are Herbal Abortions? Doctors Are Speaking Out Against This Incredibly Dangerous Practice

Increased restrictions on abortion in states across the U.S. have many women taking abortion into their own hands, with potentially devastating consequences. OB/GYN Jennifer Gunter is speaking out against one type of self-induced abortion, in an article titled, “There is no safe DIY herbal abortion.” Citing recent articles that discuss terminating pregnancies using herbs, Gunter warns against such practices, arguing that information available about herbal abortions is often incorrect, lacking scientific backup, and, ultimately, dangerous to women.

A disturbing article published last week in The New York Times announced “The Return of the D.I.Y. Abortion.” The piece used Google searches to track public interest in self-induced abortions, finding that, in 2015, 700 thousand searches sought information about how to cause a miscarriage or perform an abortion without professional medical intervention. Significantly, the prevalence of these searches surged by 40 percent in 2011, the year that the Guttmacher Institute identifies as the start of the U.S.’s current onslaught against abortion. (States instituted 92 measures to restrict abortion access that year). Perhaps unsurprisingly, searches relating to self-induced abortion are highest in places with heavy restrictions on abortion; the NYT reports that, of the ten states with the highest rates for these searches, eight have been labeled by the Guttmacher Institute as “hostile” or “very hostile” to abortion.

One type of self-induced abortion that shows up in these searches is the “herbal abortion.” In her post, Dr. Gunter criticizes articles that offer advice on how to perform abortions using herbs or other foods, arguing that “none of the ‘methods’ proposed are effective and most represent such a wild misunderstanding of science it is hard to know where to begin.” She takes particular exception to an article in VICE, titled “The Pros and Cons of Having an Herbal Abortion,” insisting, “there is no ‘pro’ to a D.I.Y. ‘herbal’ abortion, only cons.”

“That women look to self-abort is not surprising,” Gunter writes. “Getting an abortion in many states is not only financially burdensome, but the hoops women have to jump through with appointments and ultrasounds can easily be overwhelming.” That many women see self-induced abortion as their only option — as dangerous as it is — is maddening. An estimated 47 thousand women worldwide die every year to due unsafe abortion, defined by the World Health Organization as “a procedure for terminating an unintended pregnancy carried out either by persons lacking the necessary skills or in an environment that does not conform to minimal medical standards, or both.” Gunter emphasizes that herbal abortion methods, no matter how convincing they may look online, are unsafe.

“The idea that there are safe plants or other botanicals for home abortion is a dangerous myth that kills thousands of women every year,” she writes. “Anyone who promotes the idea of a safe “herbal” abortion should be ashamed of themselves.”

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