What is an Abortifacient?

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  • Written By: Tricia Ellis-Christensen
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 02 October 2016
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Abortifacient is a complex term that typically refers to a substance, chemical or natural, that creates abortion. Complexity in definition arises due to the different ways in which abortion is defined. Some people view this as death of an ovum at any point after it is fertilized, while others do not view a woman as pregnant until after the egg has journeyed down the fallopian tube and implanted in the uterus. There can thus be challenges in determining exactly what substances are truly abortifacients, and which ones only work on an unattached ovum.

Regardless of moral stance on this issue, there are several reasons why women need to understand the abortifacient. Though there are examples of herbs and chemicals that are used specifically to induce abortion, there are also plenty of chemicals and herbs with other uses that may accidentally cause it. A number of herbs, for instance, are contraindicated in pregnancy because they may induce miscarriage at any time. It is very important that women know what these are and check carefully with doctors before taking herbal remedies.

Some herbal abortifacient examples include pennyroyal, mugwort, slippery elm and black cohosh. There are relatively benign substances like papaya, pomegranate, saffron and brewer’s yeast, which in very large quantities, have been shown to have abortifacient qualities. Again, getting doctors advice for following a healthful diet is of great importance to retain a pregnancy.


There are medications that have been made specifically to create abortion. The well-known RU-486 or Mifepristone® is principally used to induce abortion up to a certain time period in a pregnancy. It does have other uses, and if the goal is not to end pregnancy, the person receiving treatment should be tested for pregnancy first.

Another medication that some people consider an abortifacient is the morning after pill (Plan B) or a combination of hormones designed to be used within two to three days of unprotected sex. While there is claim that this medication may destroy a fertilized egg, most medical professionals suggest it can’t destroy an implanted egg, and is usually used to prevent fertilization of an ovum. It’s difficult to tell if ovulation has occurred at point of use, but reliance on Plan B as birth control usually comes down to personal feelings about whether this medication is truly an abortifacient.

Similarly, oral and other types of hormonal birth control have been called abortifacients, but when used correctly they tend to prevent ovulation, which means no fertilization can take place. When used incorrectly, such as by skipping a few pills, many women find themselves pregnant, and many take hormones for the rest of the cycle without harm to the fetus. The amount of hormones taken does not tend to interfere with a pregnancy, and there are numerous “pill babies” in the world, conceived when pill or other hormonal use was incorrect.

There are other drugs, prescribed and illegal, that can potentially cause miscarriage. Most street drugs and the acts of smoking or heavy drinking significantly increase risk of fetal death or illness. A number of prescribed medications are associated with higher risk of miscarriage or of birth defects, too. Though these may not technically be abortifacient drugs, they do have the possibility of acting in this manner and should be avoided by women who want to preserve a pregnancy.


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Post 3

Many herbs and even foods may have compounds that cause a miscarriage. But usually, a very large amount has to be consumed. I highly doubt that anyone can eat enough pomegranates to cause a miscarriage. Of course, it's best to err on the side of caution and avoid or limit these herbs and foods.

As a general rule, pregnant women avoid everything that may stimulate the endometrium. Herbs that cause spasms in the endometrium can cause miscarriage or early birth. In fact, in some cultures if a woman is due but is not giving birth, such herbs are used to induce labor.

Post 2

I've still not seen any consensus among scientists and doctors about emergency contraceptives and whether they're abortifacients or not. I wish a consensus were reached because there are many people who oppose abortion but when required use emergency contraception. I feel that the contradictory statements given by various officials make this decision very difficult for women.

Post 1

I'm not an expert on this topic but I've always considered Plan B or the morning after pill as birth control rather than abortion. It's used soon after unprotected sex to prevent pregnancy, not end an existing pregnancy. Since I'm not a doctor, I don't know if the pill actually harms or removes a fertilized egg. Technically, it's possible for a sperm to enter an egg in a short time period if the conditions are right. Sometimes, a sperm can reach an egg in half an hour or hour. Other times, it may take days.

So there is a chance that Plan B may be an abortifacient. But most women certainly don't use it for this purpose. Of course, the best protection methods are condoms and birth control pills. No one should be relying on plan B for regular birth control. It's meant for emergencies when all else fails.

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