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Did you know that abortion isn’t a modern invention? In fact, it’s been around for thousands of years in the form of herbal abortion. Women of the past used plants and herbs to end unwanted pregnancies. Even in the past, women taking control of their bodies and fertility was looked on with horror. Often, “wise women,” as they were sometimes called, would be equated to demons or evil sorceresses because they taught their fellow women about these herbs and how to use them.
What were the ancient practices, and what did they mean for women who used them so long ago? Furthermore, what happened to that knowledge, and why do modern people know so little about abortifacient plants?
Let’s dive in.
What is an Abortifacient?
Abortifacients are herbs that can induce a miscarriage or abortion. Many of these plants are well-studied, and the amount you’d have to take to induce an abortion would be problematic to your own health. You should avoid abortifacients if you want your pregnancy because there is evidence that they can cause a miscarriage.
Emmenagogue is a term used in herbal medicine. It describes herbs capable of encouraging menstruation early. For centuries, people have called these plants “herbs for delayed menses,” insinuating the termination of an unwanted pregnancy. Several emmenagogic herbs are also abortifacients.
Commonly accepted abortifacients and emmenagogues include tansy, thuja, safflower, scotch broom, rue, angelica, mugwort, wormwood, yarrow, and pennyroyal, among others.
Midwives & Witches
Up until the middle ages, midwives, witches, and wise women were the primary source of fertility care for people with uteruses. They held all the information about herbs, tonics, doses,
and timing. That knowledge was passed on from woman to woman. Still, unfortunately for modern people, they often did it through word of mouth. For hundreds of years, midwives performed all the duties associated with fertility and a woman’s cycle-birthing, issues with a cycle, and abortions. Women had control over their cycles, and even if it was considered mystical and strange by the men around them, it was treated with a certain respect.
Even before that, in Ancient Greece, there was a plant that was so potent as a birth control option that the people there used it to extinction. When the dark ages came, and witch burnings and inquisitions took over, religious people who didn’t like this control and took it for themselves. We’ve never been able to get it back – not completely. And with today’s abortion discourse, it looks like people are trying to take what ground we’ve won.
Today’s Concerns About Herbal Abortion
With everything happening nowadays, it’s becoming more likely that herbal abortions will see an increase. In some cases, it might be the only affordable and doable option now that states can simply say no. Some midwives and herbalists today are familiar with the practice of herbal abortion. They may know the correct dosage and procedures. However, finding one who is alright with herbal abortion is easier said than done.
Pennyroyal and mugwort are among the most common herbs still sold by herbalists and could be used to abort a baby. Still, with all things, caution is extremely important. Especially because one tablespoon of pennyroyal essential oil is like drinking 1000 cups of its tea and could almost certainly kill someone.
When it does work, these abortifacient herbs essentially tell the body that there isn’t a fertilized egg, and therefore there’s no reason to thicken the lining of the uterus. They jump-start menstruation.
Why Women Choose Herbal Abortions
The most talked-about reason women choose non-clinical abortions is travel. Many counties throughout the country are over one hundred miles from a clinic, and just over 18% of all Texas counties are over two hundred miles away. Traveling all that way can be time-consuming and expensive.
However, herbal abortion isn’t always chosen as a last resort. In her piece, The Midwife As Abortion Provider, certified midwife Molly Dutton-Kenny said, “In truth, the reasons women may choose to end a pregnancy at home are strikingly similar to the reasons women may choose to [give] birth at home.”
Dutton-Kenny has educated over 600 men and women on abortive care and has come across many reasons, not frequently discussed, why a woman would choose an herbal abortion. She said other reasons could include:
- “Discomfort in medical settings — physically, emotionally, spiritually, or philosophically
- Discomfort with clinics that require certain tests and procedures
- Received less-than-compassionate care at clinics in the past for previous abortions or other fertility care
- Use holistic medicine for all their other health concerns and don’t see why abortion should be any different
- Lack of funds
- No longer trust providers to be knowledgeable and be sensitive about their specific bodies or needs.”
When needs aren’t being met, women turn their attention to the alternatives. According to Dutton-Kenny, governments, doctors, and people around them have made women feel they should just be thankful for current options and not explore others.
With today’s world growing ever dimmer, people with uteruses need to be ever vigilant and do more research than ever before to protect their rights and bodies. This article doesn’t contain the vast majority of information out there about herbal abortions. If you’d like to do your own research, we suggest contacting a certified midwife or herbalist educated on the subject.