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Illustration by Irene Lee

An unplanned pregnancy can bring on a range of conflicting emotions. For some, these might include a bit of fear, excitement, panic, or a mix of all three. But what if you know that having a child simply isn’t an option for you right now?

These complex emotions, coupled with certain laws and the stigma surrounding abortion, make it tempting to take matters into your own hands. After all, the internet offers an endless list of seemingly safe and inexpensive home remedies for abortion.

Common examples include:

  • herbal remedies, such as teas, tinctures, and douches
  • physical exercises
  • self-injury
  • over-the-counter medications

These home remedies are ineffective at best. Those that could potentially work are incredibly risky.

If you’re pregnant and don’t want to go through it, you likely still have options — outside of adoption — that are safer and more effective than home remedies.

Read on to learn more about why attempting an abortion with home remedies isn’t worth the risk and how to get access to a safe, discreet abortion, regardless of where you live.

Home abortions, including those done with herbs, come with high risks of potentially life-threatening complications. Sure, a lot of these remedies have been used for centuries. But an untold number of people have also died or faced permanent complications as a result of them.

According to the World Health Organization, nearly 50,000 people die every year from unsafe abortions. This includes abortions done with home remedies. Plus, about 1 in 4 women who have an unsafe abortion are left with serious health issues that require ongoing medical care.

Here’s a look at some of the biggest risks associated with common abortion home remedies.

Incomplete abortion

An incomplete abortion is an abortion that didn’t completely work. This means that products of the pregnancy remain in your body, so you’ll likely need medical treatment to complete the abortion.

Untreated, an incomplete abortion can lead to heavy bleeding and potentially life-threatening infections.

Infection

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

The term “hemorrhage” refers to any sort of major blood loss. If you or someone without medical training tries to do a surgical abortion, 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, many abortion home remedies force your period to start. It’s hard to anticipate or control how much bleeding you’ll have. Plus, getting your period doesn’t necessarily cause an abortion.

Scarring

In addition to hemorrhaging, a surgical abortion provided by someone without medical training can result in scarring.

This scarring can affect both your external and internal genitalia, which can result in infertility and other problems.

Toxicity

Herbal remedies may seem harmless because they’re natural. But even common herbs, such as a parsley, can have powerful effects and quickly become toxic. As well, 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.

Contamination

Stay away from websites claiming to sell abortion pills without a prescription. There’s no way to verify what’s actually in these pills, so you could be ingesting anything, including toxic substances or ineffective ingredients.

In addition, some websites intentionally sell fake pills in an effort to prevent people from having abortions.

If you’ve decided that an abortion is right for you, there are alternatives to doing it yourself. Even if you live in an area with strict abortion laws, you have options that are safer than home remedies.

There are two main types of abortion:

  • Medical abortion. A medical abortion involves taking oral medication or dissolving medication in your vagina or inner cheek.
  • Surgical abortion. A surgical abortion is a medical procedure involving suction. It’s done by a doctor in a medical facility, and you can usually go home right after the procedure so long as you bring someone to drive you home.

Medical abortion

You can have a medical abortion on your own at home. But you’ll need to make sure you get a prescription from a doctor.

When considering your options, keep in mind that medical abortions are only recommended if you’re 10 weeks pregnant or less.

Medical abortions generally involve two medications called mifepristone and misoprostol. There are several approaches to using the medication. Some involve taking two oral pills, while others involve taking one pill orally and dissolving the other in your vagina.

Other approaches include taking methotrexate, an arthritis medication, followed by oral or vaginal misoprostol. This is considered an off-label use of methotrexate, meaning it isn’t approved for use in abortion. Still, some healthcare providers may recommend it.

If you’re more than 10 weeks pregnant, a medical abortion likely won’t be effective. It also increases your risk of having an incomplete abortion. Instead, you’ll need a surgical abortion.

Surgical abortion

There are a couple of ways to do a surgical abortion:

  • Vacuum aspiration. After giving you a local anesthetic or pain medication, a doctor uses dilators to open your cervix. They insert a tube through your cervix and into your uterus. This tube is hooked up to a suction device that empties your uterus. Vacuum aspiration is generally used if you’re up to 15 weeks pregnant.
  • Dilation and evacuation. Similar to a vacuum aspiration, a doctor starts by giving you an anesthetic and dilating your cervix. Next, they remove the products of the pregnancy with forceps. Any remaining tissue is removed through a small tube inserted in your cervix. Dilation and evacuation is generally used if you’re more than 15 weeks pregnant.

Vacuum aspiration abortions take about 10 minutes to perform, while dilation and evacuation takes closer to 30 minutes. Both procedures often require some extra time to allow your cervix to dilate.

Learn more about the different types of abortion, including when they’re done and cost information.

Keep in mind that many areas have laws that restrict when you can have a surgical abortion. Most don’t allow surgical abortions after 20 to 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.

If you’re more than 24 weeks pregnant, consider looking into other alternatives.

If you’ve already taken steps to have a home abortion, 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 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
  • confusion

Will a doctor know?

If you’re worried about talking to a doctor, keep in mind that it’s almost impossible 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 trying to have an abortion, though. For example, you could simply say you accidentally took too much of a nutritional supplement or injured yourself while exercising.

If you live in the United States, there are several organizations that can offer guidance on what your options are, help you find a provider, and assist with covering the costs of an abortion.

Information and services

If you’re not sure where to start, consider reaching out to your local Planned Parenthood clinic, which you can find here.

Clinic staff can counsel you on what your options are and help you weigh the pros and cons of each.

Once you’ve made a decision, they can provide you with discreet, low-cost services, including both medical and surgical abortions.

Financial assistance

The National Network of Abortion Funds also offers financial assistance to help with paying for both an abortion and related costs, including transportation.

Legal information

For up-to-date information about abortion laws in your area, the Guttmacher Institute offers a handy guide to both federal and state regulations.

Telemedicine

While it’s always best to do a medical abortion with the help of a doctor, this isn’t always an option.

If all else fails, Aid Access can provide you with a prescription from a doctor. You’ll need to have a quick online consultation first to make sure a medical abortion will work for you. If it will, they’ll mail the pills to you, allowing you to have a medical abortion at home.

Unlike many sites offering abortion pills, Aid Access provides detailed information in each shipment to help you use the pills effectively and safely. They also include important information that will help you recognize any potential complications sooner rather than later.

Buying online: Is it safe?

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommends against purchasing abortion pills online. However, this is sometimes a person’s safest option.

A 2017 study involving 1,000 Irish women found that medical abortions done with the help of Women on Web were highly effective. Those who did have complications were well-equipped to recognize them, and nearly all participants who did have complications reported seeking medical treatment.

Having an abortion done by a qualified healthcare provider is the safest option. A medical abortion done with medication from a reputable source is much safer than attempting a self-abortion with home remedies.

Abortion laws vary greatly from country to country. If you’re not sure about what’s available in your country, Marie Stopes International is a good starting point. They have offices all over the world and can offer guidance on local laws and available services in your area. Choose your general area out of their list of locations to find country-specific information.

Women Help Women also offers information about resources and hotlines in many countries.

If you can’t safely access a clinic, Women on Web mails abortion pills to people in countries with restrictive laws. You’ll need to have a quick consultation online to make sure you qualify. If you do, a doctor will provide a prescription and mail the pills to you so you can have a medical abortion at home. If you’re having trouble accessing the site, you can find a workaround here.

Regardless of the laws and regulation in your area, you deserve the right to make decisions about what happens to your body.

You may feel like home remedies are your only option, but there are resources available to you in nearly every country to help you find a safe, effective alternative.