Roe v. Wade aftermath: Herbal alternatives to abortion increasing after Supreme Court overturn, experts fear
14 Jul 2022 --- Women are increasingly turning to botanicals as an alternative to abortion, after the US Supreme Court reversed Roe v. Wade. The decision caused an uproar across the country and beyond its borders, after several states moved to ban medical abortions at an early stage of pregnancy. Consequently, social media platforms are awash with misinformation on herbal abortions, which industry experts are attempting to remedy.
“We’ve got thousands of years of use, and if they were more reliable and safer, more herbalists and midwives like myself would already be using them widely; we don’t because they really aren’t non-toxic,” Dr. Aviva Romm, midwife, author, herbalist, and Yale-trained MD, Board Certified in Family Medicine with Obstetrics, tells NutritionInsight.
“When attempting to utilize botanicals for the purpose of abortion, the dose of most of the herbs used historically to induce an abortion generally exceeds doses that are considered safe for other purposes and may pose toxicity risks to the pregnant woman or may have negative effects on the developing embryo or fetus if unsuccessful,” says the American Herbal Products Association (AHPA).
The association also advises against herbal abortifacients, stressing that it is not a recommended method to terminate pregnancy intentionally. Even though there is a long history of usage, the research is limited as well as the data on toxicity, effectiveness and adverse effects on the embryo, fetus or woman.
The overruling was followed by some states, such as Texas, which implemented an abortion ban after six weeks of pregnancy. This development is making it impossible for many women to access safe abortions, as pregnancy weeks are counted from the first day of the menstrual cycle, leaving a brief timeframe to get safe medical care.
Underground usage suspected
When asked about specific herbs, Romm explains: “I actually prefer not to flag specific herbs. The names of these are widely available on the internet and actually sharing these names with a wink and a nod has been used to encourage their use,” referring to the social media usage.
“I have not heard of increased usage or reported cases, only increased interest in having the information. However, there has likely been some increased use that is remaining underground.”
Romm does not believe the overruling will incentivise industry research in herbal abortifacients.
“Perhaps some increased interest and small, privately funded studies; I do not believe pharmaceutical companies will see the value in researching these botanicals for novel compounds as the medications that exist and are effective and available.”
“Even if there were to be new drugs made from the botanicals, which is the only way pharma would invest, those meds would then fall into restricted categories in the states where abortion will be or is now harder to access. I do not believe that non-toxic herbal alternatives will rise to help women in need to get safe abortions.”
Misinformation could have fatal outcomes
Romm pinpoints some of the herbs in a video on Instagram, such as Rue, Tansy, Pennyroyal and Blue cohosh. She stresses once again that for pregnancy termination, large amounts must be consumed, which is dangerous for women and is not guaranteed to provide the desired outcome.
Mugwort is another herb that has gone “viral” on social media platforms, especially TikTok.
In her Botanical Safety Handbook, Romm exemplifies wormwood as one ingredient commonly used in herbal abortifacients, whereas cases of death caused by toxic effects have been reported. Even though the extract was not specified, “it was reported in the context of using the plant as an abortifacient.”
The book mentions a similar case, from using a high dose of Pennyroyal, which caused the woman two heart attacks, kidney and liver failures, disseminated vascular coagulation and lastly, death. Blue Cohosh is mentioned to have caused nicotinic poisoning.
“Please do not take Pennyroyal as an herbal abortion. This is incredibly dangerous as it can cause liver failure, seizures and death,” Josh Trebach, medical toxicologist, warned on Twitter.
By Beatrice Wihlander
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