Women Are Turning To TikTok for Dangerous DIY Abortion Tips in the Wake of Roe v Wade Overturning
With the recent news that the US Supreme Court has overturned Roe v Wade paving the way for anti-abortion laws to come into effect in many US states, people seeking to terminate a pregnancy are turning to alternate methods instead. Namely, they have been taking dangerous DIY advice from viral TikTok videos advising viewers to take poisonous herbs to induce natural abortion.
Among clips recommending overseas websites offering to mail order Plan B (a “morning after” pill) and people offering to help pregnant people cross state lines to procure a termination, some TikTokkers are promoting herbal abortifacients and home vacuum aspirators, which can potentially result in sepsis or death.
“I’m horrified. They’re going to kill people,” says gynaecologist and clinical professor Mary Jane Minkin, MD. “It’s terrifying because 49 years ago, that’s how women died,” she says.
Although these clips have a TikTok-enforced warning included: Participating in this activity could result in you or others getting hurt, this isn’t stopping desperate people from attempting to force a DIY abortion.
One of the most commonly cited abortifacients on TikTok is pennyroyal, a minty, sweet-smelling plant also used in essential oils or insect repellents. Pennyroyal contains pulegone, which gets metabolised in the body and forms toxins that can cause liver necrosis. Side effects of ingestion can include vomiting and abdominal pain, as well as seizures, coma, liver failure, and death.
Blue cohosh, another plant suggested to prompt an abortion, also contains methylcytosine, which in large doses can result in not just vomiting and abdominal pain, but also excessive drooling, heart arrhythmias, muscle weakness, seizures, coma, and death.
There is a great deal of information about these potentially dangerous herbal abortifacients on Tiktok. The hashtag #pennyroyaltea has over 1.1 million views, with one of the top results being a video advocating for its use as an abortifacient. That video, from someone claiming to be a nurse at Planned Parenthood, had more than 4,500 views before TikTok finally removed it.
A hashtag for mugwort, another herb purported to be an abortifacient, has more than 157 million views; the top video under that hashtag had more than 350,000 views before TikTok removed it. “This is a caution not to drink mugwort tea while pregnant because it may simulate your menstrual cycle resulting in losing the fetus. Once again, please don’t do this,” the text on the video read, though the caption included: “Life hack #roevwade #womensrights.”
While it is generally understood that these TikTokkers aren’t maliciously trying to spread misinformation and harm already desperate and vulnerable people, they are misleading them to believe that these methods are a safe, natural alternative. This couldn’t be further from the truth.
TikTok has revealed that they are constantly monitoring and removing these videos as they violate the platform’s medical misinformation policy and that it would “continue to work with our fact-checking partners to help assess accuracy.”
TikTok added that it would also be redirecting relevant hashtags, such as #herbalabortion or #naturalabortion, to its Community Guidelines, and would be removing content associated with #mugwort and #pennyroyaltea that violated platform guidelines.