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Despite the availability of safe clinical abortions, some women find themselves contemplating DIY abortions at home, using herbs. Here, we examine this dangerous practice and why you should stay well away from it.

Abortion, the practice of ending an unwanted pregnancy, has been around for a very long time — probably since the first nomads started settling down and working the land. Though the abortion debate attracts passionate campaigners on both sides and many would like abortion to be illegal, women in most developed countries now have access to safe abortions.

Why is it, then, that some women turn to DIY abortions — often using herbal concoctions that have never been proven to be safe? Here, we'll take a brief look at the world of "natural abortions" and explore why no woman should take that route.

A Brief History Of Abortion

Abortion was known to all ancient civilizations: the Babylonians, Assyrians, various Indian civilizations, Egyptians, Chinese, Greeks and Romans all had various rudimentary abortion methods at their disposal. In most of these civilizations, abortion was not illegal and in many cases socially acceptable. 

Ancient abortions were, of course, nowhere near as safe as the surgical and medical abortions modern western women are familiar with. 

Abortifacient herbs were used in some cases (with varying success rates), but more violent methods were also common. Strenuous labor, weight lifting, pouring hot water over the abdomen of a pregnant woman, sitting over a pot of steam, mercury prescriptions, and inserting sharp objects through the cervix are among the techniques ancient peoples used to end pregnancies.

As time went on, abortion become a topic of political conversation. Aristotle thought that early abortions were acceptable if the birth rate was too high, but that they should not be done after the unborn child gained a human soul. He had some weird ideas about when that happened and what the embryo's status was before that — boys gained a soul 40 days after conception while girls did so after 90 days, and an embryo possessed an animal or vegetable soul before becoming human.

The progression of history brought more complex abortion methods as well as more sophisticated discussions about the topic.

Abdominal massage, simple violence, and wearing tight girdles were still popular methods across the globe, from Australia to England, and from Japan to Cambodia between the fifth and 18th centuries. But botanists and midwives also began recording herbal concoctions that would lead to the termination of pregnancy. Some of these records date back to the 11th century. 

Herbs used to induce miscarriage included pennyroyal, Italian catnip, soapwort, juniper, and even opium. Inserting water injections into the uterus was another, cheap method. The curette, the instrument still used in surgical abortions today, was invented in France in 1723 and versions of the modern dilation and curettage (D&C) have been practiced since the 19th century. 

Abortion Today

The United Nation's World Abortion Policies 2011 report shows that abortion is currently a legal option in most of the world, though the grounds on which a woman is allowed to terminate a pregnancy vary. Ninety-seven percent of the world's countries allow women to have abortions if not doing so would endanger their life. Abortions to protect the pregnant woman's physical health or mental health are also allowed in most countries, at 67 percent and 63 percent respectively. 

Forty-seven percent of all countries accept abortion as a legal option in cases of incest and rape, while 34 percent has legalized pregnancy terminations on grounds of social or economic problems. A full 29 percent of countries also permits abortions for no reason other than the mother requesting it — this includes north American countries and most of Europe. 

In some countries where abortion is permitted, pregnant women must pay for the procedure, while it can be covered by private or social medical insurance in others.

Who would turn to herbal, do-it-yourself abortion then?

This clearly dangerous option may seem like the only choice for women in countries where abortion is not legal and who are desperate to end an unwanted pregnancy, though these countries also inevitably operate illegal abortion clinics staffed by skilled or unskilled providers. But don't think it's just women who have no other choice who find themselves contemplating a DIY abortion.

If you search Google for information about "herbal abortion", "natural abortion" or "DIY abortion", you will come across blogs and forum posts written by American and to a lesser degree European women who would in most cases have access to legal abortions provided in the safest available way. Herbal abortions are a choice, then. Sometimes that choice is clearly made for financial reasons. In other cases, it is a choice made by women who favor alternative medicine over modern medicine and who are weary of "outside intervention". 

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