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Herbal Abortifacients

Julian Gold, MD; Willard Cates Jr, MD, MPH
JAMA. 1980;243(13):1365-1366. doi:10.1001/jama.1980.03300390049025.
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Women have used herbal remedies to attempt to induce abortion for as long as unwanted pregnancies have occurred. Each culture seems to have its own particular concoction. In Mexico, cottonroot bark is used; in India pulsatilla is used; and in the United States, rue, apiol, cohosh, sage, and pennyroyal are mentioned in books on herbal medicine.

In a recent issue of The Journal, Sullivan et al (242:2873, 1979) at the Denver Poison Control Center describe the clinical, toxicological, and pathological aspects of pennyroyal oil intoxication in two women who self-administered the preparation to induce abortion; during the epidemiologic investigation of these episodes, a third case of pennyroyal oil intoxication was discovered.1 These reports have sparked widespread attention on home remedies as abortifacients. This public interest is not surprising, since two fashionable topics were juxtaposed: induced abortion and herbal medicine.

These reports also point out important public health issues beyond


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