According to the World Health Organization (WHO), unsafe abortion is a procedure of terminating a pregnancy by a person who is not appropriately trained or by using a non-recommended method or both (1). Among the unsafe methods of abortion are home remedies, which are usually techniques not recommended or backed by any medical authority.
So, are home remedies for abortion safe? Approximately 47,000 women die due to complications of unsafe abortion every year (2). The WHO considers abortions as dangerous or less safe when they involve the consumption of traditional concoctions and caustic substances believed to terminate the pregnancy (3).
If you have been thinking of trying a home remedy for abortion, read this MomJunction post to know about them, the risks involved in unsafe abortion techniques, and safer alternatives you should consider.
Commonly Practiced Unsafe Abortion Techniques
Some common methods of unsafe abortion include (4):
- Drinking mixtures or concoctions made using specific herbs
- Ingesting toxic fluids with chemicals
- Insertion of herbal mixes or foreign objects into the vagina and the uterus
- Placing unprescribed or inappropriate medicines or capsules inside the vagina
- Inflicting trauma to the abdomen by falling or injury
These methods are not recommended by medical practitioners owing to the risks they pose to the woman and must be avoided.
Some of the significant risks associated with unsafe abortions are mentioned next.
- The biggest risk factor is the failure of the process, that is the continuation of pregnancy in spite of some bleeding happening when you try for abortion.
- An incomplete abortion is one of the complications of unsafe abortion. An abortion is termed incomplete when the fetus is expelled, but part or all of the placenta is retained (5). This condition demands medical intervention, and in the absence of the same, may lead to septic shock, infertility, or even death (6).
- Infection in the case of certain home remedies that involve the insertion of surgical instruments, which is dangerous when practiced by an unskilled person. Even when the instruments are sterilized, insertion of foreign objects into the vagina or anus can be hazardous as it can damage the genital tract and increase the risk of sepsis.
The US Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines sepsis as the body’s extreme response to an infection, which can be a life-threatening medical emergency (7).
- Abortion is considered successful when there is bleeding, which is the general aim of most home remedies. However, excessive bleeding or hemorrhage in the case of some home remedies could pose a risk to life.
- Home remedies for abortion generally involve the use of herbs to develop concoctions and tinctures, which are unregulated, under-researched, and mostly unpredictable, increasing the risk of toxicity (8). A study demonstrated parsley apiole intoxication in women who aborted successfully, yet died, having suffered massive internal bleeding, convulsions, oliguria, and pyrexia (9).
Other risks of unsafe abortions could include a (10):
- Lack of immediate medical intervention in the case of an emergency, such as excessive bleeding.
- Risk of genitourinary disorders, such as pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), which could increase the risk of infertility or ectopic pregnancy.
Therefore, home remedies for abortion may or may not be effective, and their safety stands questionable. Lack of awareness about these complications could land some women in situations that need immediate medical attention.
When To See A Doctor?
See the doctor as soon as you know you are pregnant and want to terminate it. If you have already attempted a home abortion, it is advisable to seek medical help immediately, especially if you have the following symptoms:
- Heavy bleeding that may soak a pad under an hour
- Severe abdominal or pelvic cramping
- Bloody stool, urine, or vomit
- High fever and chills
- Extreme sweating
- Numbness or shivering
Have someone accompany you until the medical care center. To avoid any health risks, you should consider safe medical methods for abortion.
What Are The Safer Options For Abortion?
Induced abortions are considered safe if they are done using a method recommended by the WHO. Such abortions can be done using drugs (medical abortion) or a simple outpatient procedure (surgical procedure) by a trained medical practitioner (3).
- Medical abortion involves the use of medications, some alone or in combination with others, usually taken 24 to 48 hours apart, to induce a miscarriage. The most widely used one is a systematic plan composed of mifepristone with misoprostol. The WHO recommends this combination, with a primary dose of mifepristone followed by misoprostol 36 to 48 hours later. This is done for early medical abortion (11).
- Surgical abortion involves a minor surgical procedure, such as dilation and evacuation (D&E) or aspiration abortion, which is done in a day. It can be performed if less than 12 weeks have passed since the first day of the last menstrual cycle. The procedure is performed in a medical set-up and involves the use of local anesthesia and oral pain-relieving medications (12).
When the doctor uses one of these methods, then the chances of a successful abortion are high.
How Do You Know You Have Had A Successful Abortion?
If the doctor has prescribed tablets for abortion, you should do the necessary follow-up sonography and urine test to confirm the process is complete. In a surgical termination, after the procedure, the bleeding settles in a few days and then there is no bleeding or any other symptoms such as fever, pain etc.
Legal Aspects of Self-Managed Or At-Home Abortion
Owing to the risks and possible ineffectiveness, self-induced abortions conducted without medical guidance are mostly considered illegal under the US FDA regulations (14). Even when you are opting for a medically supported abortion, you need to understand the abortion laws in your country before making a decision.
While an unwanted pregnancy is stressful, the decision to terminate it needs to be taken after considering all the risks involved. While several women use home remedies for abortion, they are not recommended keeping in mind the risks they could put you at. The safe method would be to contact your doctor or a public healthcare center that can provide medical methods to terminate the pregnancy. It is important to make a conscious effort to use contraceptive methods and we suggest that you have a discussion with the doctor and choose a method that is most suitable to your needs
What are your views on home abortions? Tell us about them in the comments section below.
2. Safe and unsafe induced abortion; WHO
3. Key facts; Preventing unsafe abortion; WHO (2019)
4. L Haddad, N M Nour; Unsafe Abortion: Unnecessary Maternal Mortality; Rev Obstet Gynecol
5. Managing Incomplete Abortion; Midwifery Education Modules, 2nd Edition; WHO
6. Tiffany Murano and Adam Kenney; Management and Treatment of Septic Abortion; EMRA (2016)
7. What is sepsis?; Center For Disease Prevention And Control (2019)
8. Ciganda C and Laborde A; Herbal infusions used for induced abortion; National Center For Biotechnology Information (2003)
9. The Reproductive System; Abortifacients; Science Direct
10. Risks; Abortion; National Health Services, UK (2016)
11. Thoai D Ngo et al.; Comparative effectiveness, safety and acceptability of medical abortion at home and in a clinic: a systematic review; WHO
12. Surgical Abortion (First Trimester); University of California San Fransisco
13. Medical abortion: British Pregnancy Advisory Service
14. With Abortion Restrictions On The Rise, Some Women Induce Their Own; NPR (2019)