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Abortion is a big issue for me. By no means am I a single-issue voter, but abortion is a biggie. The confirmation of Alito was one awful blow for pro-choicers; now, there's the South Dakota abortion ban and the forthcoming Supreme Court battle to daunt those of us women who are of childbearing age, those of us with daughters, those of us with friends or relatives who might at some point find themselves pregnant and unhappy about it.

It's a personal thing for me. I have two daughters; right now, they're still children, but I'm afraid that by the time they grow up and become old enough to get pregnant, abortion might not be a legal option for them. I don't think any mother wants her daughters to grow up to have abortions, but I want the option to be available to them - legal and safe - just in case.

Abortion is also personal because it's a choice I've had to make before, for myself.

I have had both surgical and chemical abortions. I had my abortions at different times in my life, both when I was young and stupid, and when I was older and at least a little wiser. I had my abortions for different reasons at the times I had them; one of them was after I had given birth to two gorgeous children whom I love with virtually every shred of my being. I also have a baby now (who gets the remaining shreds of my love). I confess that all three times I've been pregnant and kept the baby, I've thought about the children I didn't choose to have and felt a little twinge of. . . regret. Guilt, maybe. Abortion isn't an easy choice, no matter how supportive you are of all women having control of their wombs; even women who are quite certain about the choices they make at the time - as I most certainly was - may find themselves emotionally taxed by the entire situation, including having qualms about having an abortion.

At this point in my life, in my current circumstances, I would not choose to have an abortion should I get pregnant again. But despite whatever choice I would make now if I were faced with an unexpected pregnancy, I know I made the right choices for myself when I chose to terminate my other pregnancies. And regardless of my own personal choices for myself now, I am very much in favor of other women having the choice of terminating an unwanted pregnancy - of controlling their own bodies. I will always be pro-choice - even if it's my own daughters who have the need to make the choice years down the road.

But years down the road, will the choice be legal? That's doubtful, frankly, given the way things have been going. My brother, who himself has a baby daughter, wrote a blog entry in which he linked to the DIY abortion manual that was making the rounds back when the news of the South Dakota abortion ban first hit. I didn't have the stomach to read it. But I saved it to my hard drive. Just in case.

The last time I had an abortion, I first contemplated an herbal abortion. In my research for this diary, I ran across a lot of the same resources that I found back then. Sisterzeus (the previous link) seems to be one of the pre-eminent and well-respected online resources for herbal treatments pertaining to women's issues, including herbal contraception (which, if the Christofascists have their way, will eventually become as great a concern as abortion is now).

I opted not to try a DIY herbal abortion, despite my fairly comprehensive knowledge of herbs and plants, because it seemed too unpredictable and the rate of success is relatively low - about 40-45% was the highest success rate I found. This site, which appears to have good and thorough information about herbal abortifacients, quotes an even lower success rate:

Herbal abortions do not work well. If you take them the correct way at the correct time in your cycle they have a 20-30% chance of causing abortion.

What are the risks of herbal abortion? Well, they're myriad. Let's start with a pretty standard disclaimer here. First, my personal disclaimer: I am not advocating that any woman choose a DIY herbal abortion, because it can be dangerous or deadly; it can be unsuccessful (and can necessitate a surgical abortion if it doesn't work); herbs can be unpredictable; the "recipes" available are spotty and widely-varied; and if you try it and fail, and then have the baby, your early efforts to abort the fetus can damage the baby. I am not a doctor or a health professional. And though I have a pretty good understanding of some herbs - including some used during pregnancy (some of which overlap with herbal abortifacients), I was iffy enough about herbal abortion, after doing some pretty substantial research, that I chose not to go that route myself.

And now a disclaimer from a pretty thorough resource I found online about using herbs for women's health issues, including abortion:

As with any medicine or chemical compounds, caution is advised before simply going out and ingesting unfamiliar plants and herbs.  Essential oils of some of these plants are known to be deadly toxic, and even when taken in the original herbal formula, the dosages are very important.  For example, Spotted Cowbane Root, noted in several of the papers in the above Reprint Package, is potentially deadly in high doses, as is Cicuta maculatum, better known as Water Hemlock, one of the most poisonous plants in North America and related in its actions to the plant that killed Socrates.  If you make the decision to try the herbal preparations, stick to the methods and dosages given in the Nissim book and other resources presented here for termination of early pregnancy - when you take responsibility for your own health and fertility, you also take responsibility for the risks involved. [Emphasis theirs.]

The dangers: some of the herbs used for herbal abortion, such as pennyroyal (it's one of the best-known herbal abortifacients), are extremely dangerous to work with. When you use pennyroyal to attempt an abortion, you are essentially poisoning yourself. For pennyroyal to work as an abortifacient, you must ingest a nearly lethal dose (and by the way, never ingest pennyroyal oil). Pennyroyal irritates the uterus and causes contractions, which may induce an abortion. Organ failure, particularly affecting the liver and kidneys, is a distinct possibility if you use pennyroyal to induce abortion. It's a commonly mentioned herbal abortifacient, but it's highly dangerous to use.

Cotton root bark is another herbal abortifacient, slightly less dangerous than pennyroyal and tansy. Cotton root bark prevents the corpus luteum from producing adequate progesterone to maintain the pregnancy. But cotton root bark isn't something you commonly see in herb shops, and picking cotton plants out of a field to use is dangerous, as most commercial cotton crops are treated with pesticides and herbicides that can be harmful to you.

Blue cohosh is both an abortifacient and an emmenagogue, which causes your period to start. It can be dangerous to people with blood pressure issues (both low and high), heart problems, issues with estrogen (it has some properties similar to estrogen), or kidney problems. Diabetics should also avoid this herb. Blue cohosh is easier to obtain than some of the other herbal abortifacients (like Dong Quai, which is an emmenagogue that isn't typically terribly successful for inducing an abortion herbally ); you can pretty easily find blue cohosh in tincture form and buy seeds to grow it yourself. You shouldn't confuse blue cohosh with the readily-available black cohosh, which is an herbal remedy that might help with menopause issues. I did see one site with an herbal abortion "recipe" using black cohosh, but it was one of the few references I saw to black cohosh being used to induce abortion, and the recipe listed use of the plant itself, and not just the capsules you can find in the herbal section of even chain stores like Target and drugstores. Black cohosh and blue cohosh are not the same thing.

Parsley is another herb reputed to be a "helper herb" for inducing an abortion. Queen Anne's Lace, also known as wild carrot (they're in the same family), is another herb that is used both for contraception and as an abortifacient. (As with cotton plants, Queen Anne's Lace, which often grows wild in fields and by the side of the road, can have high concentrations of toxins from car emissions and herbicides.) Queen Anne's Lace is more commonly used, as far as I can tell, as a contraceptive more than as an abortifacient. I've also seen references to rue and yarrow being used to herbally induce an abortion, but one of the problems with this most unfriendly garden is that, as this site says,

much of the information is incomplete or inconsistent. If you want to learn more about them, consult an herbalist who has had experience using them for herbal abortions.

A lot of the information about herbal remedies for unwanted pregnancy, as well as herbal remedies for lots of other things, is spotty. Some of the information you can find contradicts other information you find about herbs. How do you know what is accurate? You don't. You should consult an herbalist, and even then, you should proceed with caution, because, though herbs are natural, they're still medicine - and they aren't regulated. The information you receive from an herbalist may be highly reliable - or it might not be.

Another problem with herbal remedies in general is that the form of the herb you take matters a lot in some cases, including using herbs to induce abortion. Do you use a tincture? An infusion? Do you take capsules or use the plant parts, and should you use them fresh or dry? Even once you figure this out, you must take into account that plants don't grow into standardized strengths and dosages. This bottle of raspberry leaf 960 milligram capsules may differ from that bottle of raspberry leaf 960 milligram capsules because they were grown in different conditions. People already have trouble with finding lab-developed, standard strength/dosage medicines that don't interact poorly with their own personal chemistries; with herbs, it can be even harder than with lab-developed drugs to find a dosage and a drug that plays nicely with your body.

Besides the dangers posed by individual plants, herbal abortions can be dangerous because of Rh factor complications, the risk of hemorrhage, and the risk of an incomplete abortion. Herbal abortions can only be performed in the very early stages of pregnancy, preferably before your period is even expected (so you may wind up poisoning yourself with the herbs even if you're not  actually pregnant, for optimal conditions for an herbal abortion). And again, herbal abortions don't have a high rate of success. You may wind up needing a surgical abortion after all.

The only way to safely give yourself a herbal based abortion is to start immeadiately after coitus. Wild Carrot is an implantation preventor, so it has to be used then. Any herbal method that is used after a missed period is more invasive and dangerous than a D&C or vacuum extraction ever could be.

. . .

Most people who come asking for a herbal abortion on this list (in my experience of trading private e-mail) have missed one - three periods already, are young, are scared, and are chickening out on telling parents. They want a quick fix, and one they can do in their bedroom.

Herbal abortions require that you start immeadiately not once you've confirmed pregnancy with a missed period. If you wait you will get horribly ill in the process, will either end up getting a properly done clinic abortion, or worry about the damage you did to your baby during the rest of your pregnancy. I know too many women who have been traumatized by this process and that trauma is a combination of things - the base reasons around why they want a herbal abortion instead of a surgical one (usually fear that anyone will find out), the fact that most of them have waited much too long to be successful (usually because they were in denial about the pregnancy in the first place), the frightening attempt that makes them violently ill, the aloneness (because they attempted it without a support of any kind), and then the fact that they are still pregnant and have to make the choice again.

Link

Wise women and midwives used to be common in the rural areas, which are, I think, going to be the places hardest hit by the march of the Right against women's control of their own bodies. Medical abortions are hard enough to find in some red areas, even in places with urban centers. And much of the folkloric knowledge that used to belong to wise women has fallen away - it's regarded as quackery, or the knowledge has been lost, or direct-entry midwifery (unregulated by the government) is illegal. Furthermore, finding an herbalist in one of these rural areas, much less a reliable one, will likely be difficult.

It's looking to me like women who don't have access to an herbalist or a midwife - and it's my opinion that a certified nurse-midwife probably wouldn't have much to do with herbally inducing an abortion - are going to have to go it on their own to have abortions. Either they'll have to scrape the embryo or fetus out of themselves or they'll have to risk the roulette of herbal abortion. Neither is something a woman should undertake as a DIY project. In a discussion on this site, one woman says,

What I know for sure about herbal abortions is that they can be dangerous or even deadly. This is NOT an area for amateurs. One of the reasons "invasive surgical abortions" because the method of choice is that they are generally safer and more reliable than the herbal variety. Which is not to say that you CAN'T herbally abort. What I am trying to tell you is that the dosage of many of these things needed to induce an abortion is very close to fatal.

If you MUST do this consult someone who knows what they are doing - don't just take any random advice you get over the Internet or from relatives and friends. BE VERY CAREFUL!!!!

No choice at all, is it, having to choose between having an unwanted baby, having to scrape or suck the fetus out of your womb by yourself, or having to endanger your body (far more than a surgical abortion ever does) by taking near-lethal doses of unpredictable herbs. Even those who advocate the use of herbs for natural healthcare are emphatic that herbal abortions should be an absolute last resort. Even sites that say herbal abortions can be induced safely should be read with a wary eye.

But desperate times call for desperate measures. Which pisses me off beyond all belief - that women, maybe even my daughters, may be forced into an impossible choice. As if the decision to terminate a pregnancy isn't already difficult enough.

I couldn't choose an herbal abortion, since other options were available to me - but I worry very much that in the frighteningly near future, women will have no other choice but to go the DIY route to terminate unwanted pregnancies. And the do-it-yourself manual posted by Molly not too long ago scares the hell out of me, a woman who has already experienced what abortion is like. If I were pregnant, scared, choiceless, and looking for a more palatable option than what Molly presents, I might consider going herbal, mistakenly thinking that it's natural (which is commonly regarded as "safer" and "gentler" than manufactured chemicals and surgery); I might think that it's simply a matter of sipping tea and suddenly not being pregnant, rather than the dangerous and unreliable process that it is. What an awful crossroads to come to.

But just as I saved Molly's instructions, just in case, I am also tucking away the herbal information I've collected. I'm lucky that I don't believe I'll ever have to choose abortion again (and even if I do, I live close enough to several urban centers and blue states that legal medical abortion should be an option for me). But this isn't just about me, and it isn't just about the women who are women today, in South Dakota - it's also about the girls today who will grow into women, who will have sex, some of whom will invariably get pregnant and desperately need to make a choice that overzealous  Christofascist bureaucrats have taken away from them. It will spread beyond South Dakota. It will affect millions of women. And given no good choice at all, one is forced to consider desperate measures - even digging in a deadly garden - because this is truly a desperate time for all women, present and future.

* Inspired by SarahLee's diary earlier today.

Originally posted to poppyseed on Tue Mar 07, 2006 at 09:07 PM PST.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip jar (4.00)
    If anyone's interested.
  •  guess I was lucky (4.00)
    I used pennyroyal back in my college days when my period was late. Someone suggested it, and no one at the health food store who sold me the dried leaves for tea told me there was any potential danger. I drank a couple teacups of it, but it tasted nasty and made me feel lousy, so I didn't drink any more. It didn't make my period come, but it turned out just to be late.

    The home remedies spread by word of mouth are going to cause so many more serious problems.

    By coincidence, after reading your diary, I saw this article on how many states in Mexico make it impossible for girls who are raped to get an abortion. Near the end, it tells how the men often blame the girls who are raped, saying it's their fault because of such things as the way they dress.

    •  I could write a whole other diary (4.00)
      about how much it angers me that it is largely men driving this subjugation of women, and punishing women for having sex. But it's nothing that hasn't been said before, and better than I could do it. I know women have their hands in this attempt to revert to a dangerous and benighted time, too, but I think underlying it all is men who want to put women back in their place.

      I took herbs while I was pregnant (the wanted pregnancies) and while I was nursing, but I just couldn't bring myself to go the herbal route with abortions. Especially because of all the bad information going around out there. It's so inconsistent. And even if it weren't, herbs are so variable that it's scary to think of trying to do something as big as an abortion with herbs. It also scares me that people will perceive herbal abortion as being a safer and gentler method than other methods.

      Guh. I could blab on forever about abortion and all the tangents that come up when I think about it. I'm glad you came out OK with the pennyroyal. From what I've learned about it, you were very lucky.

  •  Some of these herbs.... (none)
    can be quite toxic.  Don't think they would be too good for the embryo if they didn't work.  Might cause the woman a problem too.  I think I would rather chip in carfare to a better state.

    You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you mad. Aldous Huxley

    by murrayewv on Tue Mar 07, 2006 at 09:52:31 PM PST

    •  That would be my preference, too (4.00)
      for the exact reasons you mention (and which I touched on in the diary). But when it seems so many options are being taken away, I prefer to keep all options open.

      Still, safe and legal is my preference, and given a choice, I'd work to see to it that a woman without a legal choice for abortion could get to a place where medical abortion is legal.

  •  Glad you posted this (4.00)
    I was thinking of doing Vagina Victory Gardens Part II to cover this.

    Like you, the whole issue brings me pain and anger and fear.  I worked hard years ago to put this fight behind us.  Spent years of Saturdays escorting women into clinics when they chose abortion and fighting to protect the gains we had made.  

     I'm exhausted with the fight.  And I don't dare stop.

    I've been abused. I'be been raped.  I've had a shotgun marriage. I've had abortions.  I've been a single mom. I've got two great kids and two wonderful grandchildren. A granddaughter whose life may be altered by efforts I make now.

    My hope is that progress we did make means that we have more women doctors and nurse practitioners who will be there for us if needed.

    I live in Lakota country.  I have had the joy of spending hours learning from women who knew the stories and teachings of their mothers and grandmothers who were part of this once great nomadic tribe.  Women who knew how to prevent unwanted pregnancy because they could not travel safely and keep up with too many young children. So I know that herbal ways can work as well.... but we don't have the people walking with us who know the ways, the ceremony that goes with the medicine, the signs to watch for, the taste the teas should have... those women who knew are mostly gone.  I'm not sure it is something you can learn over the Internet or with a visit to the herb shop.  

    I am also told that there are knowledgeable people in the herb shops in some of the "China towns" that many larger cities have.  Again, I hope we don't have to find out.

    •  Maybe we should consider doing a (none)
      Part III about herbal contraception, much of which seems safer and more reliable than herbal abortions. I have a great respect for herbology, and I find much of what I learn to be useful - but so many people tend to think herbs are harmless and can be taken without caution. I think maintaining a tradition of herbal lore is important, not just in case of emergencies, but because it's good stuff to know.
  •  interesting diary (4.00)
    I only have one quibble
    Abortion isn't an easy choice, no matter how supportive you are of all women having control of their wombs; even women who are quite certain about the choices they make at the time

    for me it was very easy. I was very certain. It was very early in the pregnancy (like maybe when my period was 2 weeks late. it was a very simple procedure.  and I never regretted it. In fact I was relieved and grateful.

    I would say that the only difficult thing about it was that I knew I had to keep it hidden from casual acquaintances, to protect myself.

    I think it comes down to belief. I was raised in a religious tradition which believes that life begins at first breath. And from reading I have done since then I know that the embryo at that point was a tiny glob of undifferentiated cells.

    I would have been a terrible mother at that point. I am so glad I waited.

    -6.13,-6.33 America's Security is not for sale

    by biscobosco on Tue Mar 07, 2006 at 10:01:06 PM PST

    •  I hesitated over that part, actually (none)
      because I know that there are women for whom there is no other choice (I was one of them) and who would not go back and make a different choice if they could (I'm one of those, too). But I think it is difficult for pretty much any woman - it's just that the difficulties are varied. For some it's moral qualms, or something more akin to wondering what the kid would have been like (that's what I experienced once I'd had children - it wasn't so much a morality thing as it was a curiosity thing, and a regret that I wouldn't know). For some it's the physical pain. Or telling a partner who isn't supportive that you're pregnant. Or being afraid friends would find out. Or being afraid of running the wingnut gauntlet at the clinic (something I was able to avoid each time, thankfully).

      I think for many, if not most, women who choose to have abortions, it is the only choice, and in that respect, it is easy. And I don't think, by a long shot, that all women have that kind of yearning wondering thing I have going on (and that's more a wondering than a regret about a poor decision - I made the right decision, that much I know). And god knows, I can't speak for all women and be right on 100%. But I do think that for nearly every woman who has made the choice, there has been some sort of difficulty - even just the shock of finding oneself unexpectedly pregnant and being faced with having to choose one thing or another, neither of which is a choice made lightly - and that even if abortion is the only real choice, there are issues apart from regret that still make it far from an easy decision.

      I'm gonna leave my writeup as is, with this comment as a codicil that, you know, different women feel different things about the choices they have made, and most importantly, that I firmly believe women are entitled to that without having someone else decide how they're supposed to feel about the choice that belongs to that woman, and her alone.

      •  It depends on whether one perceives (none)
        that a loss has taken place. A loss must be grieved, and it is possible to experience loss over something you've never actually had.
        •  I definitely agree with this (none)
          and I have felt the loss of the potential, even though I do not regret having made the choices I did. But I realize that not everyone who has made the choice felt the loss, and there isn't anything wrong with that any more than there is something wrong with my having some measure of grief.
  •  What a heartbreaking diary. (4.00)
    Because of the coming necessity of it.
    Back in the days, studying with an old herb man in the mountains, I learned first hand about the need to be very careful about finding out what herbs are your herbs. A friend drank quarts of Lobelia tea every day, to calm down. She offered me a cup one day, and after drinking about a quarter of it, I was non-functional, had to go lay on the couch for a couple of hours. Valarian affects me the same way, as do the pill form, valium.
    That's what is so scary about this.
    Old Kern would say, "The Bible says 'The Herbs of the Field are here for Man to use'." I wonder how the anti-life, anti-abortion wingnut religious fanatics will deal with an outbreak of herbal abortions, and deaths.
    Thank you for this excellent diary.
    •  I doubt the wingnuts will feel any more qualms (none)
      about deaths from herbal abortions than they will about deaths from coathanger abortions. Culture of life my ass.

      And yes, that it may be necessary for more women to look into herbal abortion - and who may feel they have no other options - is heartbreaking. Herbs are wonderful things, but they're so dangerous, the moreso because of the general perception that natural=safe, and that sipping a cup of tea is going to solve the problem. There are so many misconceptions about the use of herbs for abortions, and so much incomplete and faulty information, that I would bet the deaths (or severely damaged babies) resulting from herbal abortion attempts will be nearly as high as from the coathanger abortions.

      Culture of life, my ass.

  •  I'm heading to bed now (none)
    Looks like it wasn't a good night for this discussion, with the Ciro stuff going on. Thanks to everybody for the comments and recommends and mojo (I just regained TU status tonight! Yay! Not that I ever do anything with it, but still...). The baby was up sick last night and a strong fever all day today, and I'm whooped. So off I go. Talk amongst yourselves, and I'll sprinkle 4s and responses (if any show up overnight) when I get up in the morning, provided the baby is better.
  •  It is sad that we must (none)
    take a grand step backward to the Middle AGes.

    The last time we mixed religion and politics people got burned at the stake.

    by irishwitch on Wed Mar 08, 2006 at 12:39:05 AM PST

    •  Indeed it is (none)
      I find this whole rolling-back-to-50s-values thing very unsettling and upsetting. And it's so pervasive: abortion, sex ed, contraception - it's all so Leave it to Beaver. As it were.

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