Doctor Warns Against 'Dangerous' Online Recipes for 'Herbal Abortion'

A medical toxicologist has issued an urgent warning about "herbal abortion" recipes circulating online.

Risky "DIY" posts about herbs and plants thought to induce abortion began circulating on social media after the Supreme Court's decision to overturn Roe v. Wade first leaked as a draft opinion. The trend has continued since Roe was struck down on June 24, with TikTok and Twitter users sharing lists of alleged natural abortifacients and homemade concoctions.

Josh Trebach, an emergency room doctor and toxicologist based in Iowa, responded to a TikTok video touting pennyroyal and mugwort for self-induced abortions on June 28.

"Please do not take pennyroyal as an herbal abortion," Dr. Trebach pleaded in a tweet with over 34,000 likes.

"This is incredibly dangerous—it can cause liver failure, seizures, and DEATH," he warned.

The doctor added in a follow-up tweet that no herb or plant is safer for abortion seekers than the medication misoprostol.

Dr. Cara Delaney, assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Connecticut, also told Newsweek in May that homeopathic abortion treatments are wholly unsupported by evidence of safety or effectiveness. They are also unregulated with no quality or safety controls.

"I do not recommend using herbs or homeopathic methods to end a pregnancy when we have ways to end a pregnancy with misoprostol, with mifepristone, with doing the surgical procedure," Delaney said.

Abortion Rights Activists
A medical toxicologist has issued an urgent warning about “herbal abortion” recipes circulating online. Here, abortion rights activists protesting in Tucson, Arizona, on July 4, 2022. SANDY HUFFAKER / Contributor/AFP

Nonetheless, DIY recipes have continued to proliferate on social media.

A video from TikToker Alyssa Foresman on June 25 suggested that abortion seekers should follow a recipe from the American Colonial period, involving a tablespoon of brewer's yeast added to a "freshly brewed cup of pennyroyal tea."

Foresman also displayed text claiming that the concoction was "reputed to be a safe and effective abortifacient."

Another video from a TikTok "spiritualist" and "healer" claimed that in addition to combating the common cold and negative energy, pennyroyal can be used to induce abortion.

The user also suggested the plant rue for abortion. Rue is considered unsafe when used as a medicine, with potential side effects including serious kidney and liver damage and death, according to medical information site RxList.

Dr. Trebach's warning triggered a wave of outrage over the misinformation about "herbal abortions" spreading online.

"TiKTok will kill people. Full stop. No hyperbole. The FDA needs to get in front of this type of messaging," said one comment.

Another cautioned, "We need to be reacquainted with the fact that back-alley/coat-hanger abortions aren't all that killed us back then. Dangerous concoctions can and did kill us, too."

Newsweek reached out to Dr. Trebach for comment.