If you’re experiencing an unintended pregnancy, know that you’re not alone, and you have options. You can safely and legally end your pregnancy if you want to.
This is still true, even after the United States Supreme Court voted in June 2022 to overturn Roe vs. Wade — the 1973 case that guaranteed the legal right to abortion.
However, in the wake of Roe‘s fall, many social media users concerned about increased restrictions around legal abortion have shared “advice” on how to self-manage your own.
While some tips are evidence-based — for example, many folks point out that self-managing an abortion via approved medication is safe, effective, and legal nationwide — many alleged “abortion home remedies” are under-researched.
They may be ineffective at best and life threatening at worst.
Some common “abortion home remedies” that people try include:
- herbs and teas, including pennyroyal, mugwort, black cohosh, and parsley
- physical exercises
- over-the-counter medications like vitamin C, caffeine pills, and birth control pills
- alcohol and criminalized drugs
Read on to learn more about why attempting abortion via these “home remedies” can be harmful — and how to access safe alternatives, no matter where you live.
Self-managed abortion isn’t inherently unsafe
You can self-manage an abortion using medication approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Studies confirm that abortion pills are a safe and effective way to end pregnancies.
However, social stigma, lack of awareness, lack of access to providers, and fear of legal repercussions prompt some people to attempt unsafe methods of self-managed abortion (SMA).
Some of these abortions
Others are SMAs that may involve using ethnobotanical and folk remedies, including herbs and teas, or attempting self-injury.
This is nothing new: People have long used traditional medicine and other methods to induce abortions. But many of these practices are under-researched, and those studied are often found to be ineffective, unsafe, or both.
Today, marginalized communities, youth, people living in areas that criminalize abortion, and people experiencing poverty or homelessness appear most likely to attempt SMA using unsafe methods.
For example, one study found that people with uteruses who are not cisgender — including transgender men, genderqueer folks, and other gender-expansive people — reported high interest in SMA.
Of the people surveyed, 19% said they attempted an SMA without aid. Methods included taking herbs, causing physical trauma, using vitamin C, and using drugs or alcohol.
In a 2018 U.S. study, 55% of people who reported past attempts to self-abort said they used herbs or vitamins, while 36% said they used alcohol or non-pharmaceutical rugs.
Youth participants reported feeling that other abortion methods were too expensive or otherwise inaccessible due to their age or location.
Many vitamins and herbs are touted as abortifacients (abortion-causing substances) when taken orally in high doses, brewed into teas, or inserted into the vagina. However, there is little evidence to support their use.
None of these substances are approved or recommended for inducing abortion, and some can cause serious harm — even in small amounts.
Some of the most commonly attempted “home remedies” include pennyroyal, black cohosh, mugwort, parsley, and vitamin C.
Pennyroyal oil and pennyroyal tea
Pennyroyal is the name given to a herbal extract or oil derived from a few plants that belong to the mint family: Mentha pulegium or Hedeoma pulegoides. It’s long been used in folk medicine to induce periods and abortions.
However, pennyroyal oil can cause serious side effects,
- cardiopulmonary collapse (sudden failure of the heart and lungs)
- liver injury, liver necrosis, or liver failure
- renal insufficiency
- multi-organ failure
In addition to its potential to harm you, some
Therefore, consuming pennyroyal to attempt an SMA is not a good idea.
Also known as snakeroot, black bugbane, or rattleweed, black cohosh (Actaea racemosa or Cimicifuga racemosa) has been used in traditional Indigenous medicine for centuries.
Some people take black cohosh supplements to treat menstrual cramps and menopause symptoms.
However, there isn’t much evidence supporting any of these claims. Plus, research into the side effects of black cohosh is limited.
There is no evidence that black cohosh at any dosage can induce an abortion, but there is evidence that taking it can cause side effects. Black cohosh is not a reliable or recommended method of SMA.
Mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris) also has a storied history as an Indigenous medicine, with some
However, little scientific research supports using mugwort for any of these conditions.
Some people take mugwort to attempt abortions, as it’s been found to
The herb is generally recognized as safe when taken as an over-the-counter supplement, but large doses of some variations of mugwort may cause
- nausea and vomiting
- nervous system damage
- high blood pressure
- stomach cramps
- brain injury
- insomnia and restlessness
- urine retention
Mugwort is also said to have high allergen potential and may cause allergic reactions and anaphylactic shock. It’s not a safe or effective method of SMA.
Parsley — and oils that are drawn from it — have been used in SMA attempts for many years. However, taking concentrated parsley oils has been associated with hemorrhage (severe bleeding), neurotoxicity, and death.
That’s because oils derived from parsley’s leaves or seeds contain high levels of a compound called parsley apiole, which can cause poisoning in large doses.
Research has found that parsley apiole poisoning can lead to miscarriage, but it comes with other side effects that can be fatal, such as:
- severe abdominal pain
- vaginal bleeding
- vomiting and diarrhea
Parsley also contains a compound called
However, parsley-based treatments are not recommended or proven to be safe methods for SMA due to the risk of side effects. It is also not clear how effective parsley is in inducing abortion.
(Remember that most studies involve concentrated oils derived from parsley’s leaves or seeds — not parsley itself.)
Over-the-counter and prescription medications
It’s never a good idea to take more than the recommended dose of any over-the-counter or prescription medication. Even vitamins and supplements can pose risks when taken in excess.
Those that don’t cause direct harm may just be ineffective. For example, despite some myths, vitamin C cannot cause an abortion.
You should also never use alcohol or criminalized drugs to try and induce abortion, nor should you engage in self-injury. You deserve safe, compassionate, judgment-free abortion care — and options are available.
Here’s a look at some of the biggest risks associated with common abortion “home remedies.”
Untreated, an incomplete abortion can lead to heavy bleeding and potentially life-threatening infections.
All surgeries involve a risk of infection, which is why medical facilities work hard to keep their environments as sterile as possible.
Some abortion home remedies call for inserting an instrument through your cervix to reach your uterus. This is extremely dangerous, even if you think you’ve properly sterilized the instrument.
An infection in your vagina, cervix, or uterus can cause permanent damage, including infertility. An infection in this area can also spread to your bloodstream, causing life threatening blood poisoning.
Hemorrhage refers to any sort of major blood loss. If you or someone without medical training tries to perform a surgical abortion on you, you run the risk of accidentally severing a major blood vessel, causing internal bleeding.
Keep in mind that internal bleeding may not be visible until it’s too late.
In addition to hemorrhaging, a surgical abortion provided by someone without medical training can result in scarring.
This scarring can affect your external and internal genitalia, resulting in infertility and other health conditions.
Herbal remedies may seem harmless because they’re “natural.” But even common herbs can have powerful effects and quickly become toxic.
Not to mention, most herbal abortion methods require consuming much more than the recommended dosage.
If you ingest more than the amount known to be safe for humans, your liver has to work overtime to filter out extra toxins and other compounds from the herbs. This can lead to liver damage or failure.
Many people who attempt to self-manage an abortion via a home remedy do so because abortion is illegal or restricted where they live. And since it’s difficult to research illegal activities, we don’t have much data about the effectiveness of abortion home remedies.
Many of them tried home remedies — primarily herbs and vitamins (43%), birth control pills or other medications, certain foods, and alcohol or drugs — instead of or alongside abortion medication.
None of the people who reported using home remedies alone said they were successful in ending their pregnancies.
Those who used home remedies often tried several methods over weeks without success before visiting an abortion provider in person.
Two-thirds reported they had attempted an abortion outside of a clinical setting or without pharmaceutical medications. More than a third said they had used plants.
The researchers found that of 21 plant species participants reported using, 16 did have some ability to encourage uterine contractions. However, using plants for abortion runs a high risk of complications, including incomplete abortions that require follow-up medical care.
Overall, most abortion home remedies appear not only dangerous but ineffective as well.
If you’ve decided that an abortion is right for you, there are safe, legal alternatives to herbs, self-injury, and out-of-clinic procedures — and you can still self-manage your abortion at home.
There are two main types of abortion:
- Medical abortion. A medical abortion involves taking pills or dissolving medication in your vagina or inner cheek. Medication abortions can be safely self-managed at home.
- Surgical abortion. A surgical abortion is a medical procedure involving suction. It’s done by a provider in a medical facility, and you can usually go home after the procedure so long as you bring someone to drive you.
When considering your options, remember that medical abortions are usually only recommended up until week 12 of pregnancy.
Most states don’t allow surgical abortions after 20–24 weeks or the end of the second trimester. They’re usually only done after this point if the pregnancy poses a serious health risk.
Watch out for crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs)
While some CPCs offer limited healthcare services like pregnancy tests or ultrasounds, they do not provide abortions or support accessing abortions.
CPC workers are known to shame and mislead people into believing that abortion is unsafe or harmful.
If you’ve already taken steps to have an abortion using a method that may pose risk, make sure to listen to your body. If something doesn’t feel right, seek medical attention as soon as possible.
Go to the emergency room if you notice any of the following symptoms:
- bleeding that soaks through a maxi pad in under one hour
- bloody vomit, stool, or urine
- fever or chills
- yellowing of your skin or eyes
- severe pain in your abdomen or pelvis
- vomiting and loss of appetite
- loss of consciousness
- inability to wake up or stay awake
- sweaty, cold, bluish, or pale skin
Even if you live in an abortion-hostile state, you should still seek medical care for complications or side effects.
It’s almost impossible for healthcare professionals to tell the difference between an accidental miscarriage and an intentional abortion. You have no obligation to tell them you’ve attempted a home abortion.
Still, it’s important to tell them about any substances or actions you took. You don’t have to tell them you were attempting to induce an abortion, though.
Several U.S. organizations can offer guidance on your options, help you find a provider, and assist with covering the costs of an abortion.
Information and services
If you’re unsure where to start, consider reaching out to the nearest Planned Parenthood clinic, which you can find here.
Clinic staff can counsel you on your options and help you weigh the pros and cons of each.
Once you’ve decided, they can provide you with discreet, lower-cost services, including medical and surgical abortions.
Other options include INeedAnA.com and the National Abortion Federation’s U.S. Abortion Clinic Locator.
The National Abortion Federation also operates a hotline that can help you find an abortion provider or financial support for your abortion.
Abortion funds are organizations that help people pay for abortion care. They can help you find abortion providers and arrange appointments, too.
Some abortion funds you can contact for help include:
- Indigenous Women Rising
- Access Reproductive Care Southeast
- Yellowhammer Fund
- Lilith Fund
- Northwest Abortion Access Fund
- Access Reproductive Justice
- Utah Abortion Fund
- Florida Access Network
- Holler Health Justice
- Kentucky Health Justice Network
- Midwest Access Coalition
The above list is far from complete, as many local and regional communities have abortion funds. The National Network of Abortion Funds can connect you with local organizations serving your area.
Depending on where you live, a physician or abortion provider may be able to prescribe you abortion medication, and you can take it in their office or at home. You can also order pills online.
Pills ordered online appear just as safe as those administered in person.
Those who did have complications were well-equipped to recognize them, and nearly all participants who had complications reported seeking medical treatment.
Prioritize your privacy
There are legal risks to self-managed at-home medication abortion. Some states restrict access to telehealth abortion or receiving abortion pills by mail.
This means discretion and privacy are absolutely paramount.
If at all possible, tell as few people as you deem necessary about your pregnancy and your decision to terminate the pregnancy.
Clear any internet search, private message, or phone call history that might connect this to you.
Trying to make sense of the limitations in your state? Our state-by-state guide to abortion restrictions can help.
Abortion access varies widely by country.
The Center for Reproductive Rights offers more information on abortion laws worldwide, along with a map you can use to check the abortion laws in your country.
If you live in Canada, you can call the National Abortion Federation hotline at 877-257-0012 for a referral to a clinic near you.
British Pregnancy Advisory Services can offer more information about your abortion options if you live in the United Kingdom. They also provide abortion services and support to international patients.
Humans have used ethnobotanical practices and other methods to end their pregnancies for centuries. Today, marginalized communities and people living in areas that criminalize abortion are most likely to try methods like these.
Since the fall of the right to legal abortion in the US, well-meaning folks have increasingly shared advice on “abortion home remedies” via social media.
However, few of these methods — including herbs, injury, alcohol, or drugs that have not been FDA-approved — have been studied for safety or effectiveness. Those that have been studied have generally proven risky and could harm you.
That means it’s best to avoid them. However, this doesn’t mean that you are out of options.
If you need an abortion, you can access safe alternatives like FDA-approved medication (either obtained from an in-person or telehealth provider or ordered online) or a procedure at a verified clinic.
Regardless of the laws and regulations in your area, you deserve the right to make decisions about what happens to your body.
Rose Thorne is an associate editor at Healthline Nutrition. A 2021 graduate of Mercer University with a degree in journalism and women’s & gender studies, Rose has bylines for Business Insider, The Washington Post, The Lily, Georgia Public Broadcasting, and more. Rose’s proudest professional accomplishments include being a college newspaper editor-in-chief and working at Fair Fight Action, the national voting rights organization. Rose covers the intersections of gender, sexuality, and health, and is a member of The Association of LGBTQ+ Journalists and the Trans Journalists Association. You can find Rose on Twitter.