People are already spreading false information about herbal abortions on TikTok

Following the Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v Wade, TikTok is now full of videos recommending poisonous herbs to end unwanted pregnancies.

When it was announced that the Supreme Court would overturn Roe vs. Wade, the reaction was felt collectively around the world: anger, frustration, despair and sadness. The implications of such a decision cannot be overstated. For people with disabilities or prone to miscarriages, it’s a death sentence, while for others, it only serves to reinforce the fact that they are granted less rights than guns. With the judgment paving the way for states to ban the abortion procedure, it seems clear that the road ahead will be difficult and, shockingly, misinformation is already sweeping the internet.

Some companies actively seek to support their employees and ensure they have continued access to abortion by covering travel costs. Google also announced that it would take greater steps to remove user location history data that could be used to prosecute people for visits to abortion clinics in the United States. But on TikTok, an alarming trend has emerged that poisonous herbs are being recommended as a way to end unwanted pregnancies.

Already, these videos are racking up millions of views as new anti-abortion laws take effect across much of the United States. It should be clarified that what is contained in these videos is a clear and deliberate spread of misinformation, with the creators suggesting that everything from papaya and goji berries to black cohosh and mugwort can be used to induce contractions and trigger a “miscarriage”. It’s no surprise, then, that a disclaimer imposed by TikTok’s site is evident in most of the videos, then warning viewers: “Participating in this activity could hurt you or others.”

The reversal of Roe vs. Wade comes with a warning for members of the Supreme Court: This won’t stop abortions from happening, but it will stop safe abortions. Already, the spread of such videos on TikTok only seems to reinforce this notion, as women will turn to other means to terminate pregnancies, many of which will be life-threatening. As studies by the Guttmacher Institute reveal, the number of abortions performed in countries where it is illegal is relatively the same as in places where abortion is legal. The main difference, however, is that in places where abortion is still illegal, those that go wrong account for between 8 and 11 percent of maternal deaths.

Many of the ingredients promoted in these herbal abortions are toxic. Since the overthrow of Roe vs. Wade, Google Trends shows that searches for “royal pennyroyal”, “mugwort” and “home abortion” increased by 62%, 68% and 86% respectively. In an interview with rolling stoneclinical professor in the Department of OBGYN and Reproductive Sciences at Yale University School of Medicine, Dr. Mary Jane Minkin, explained that she was deeply horrified by the advice perpetuated online and shared with countless women who find themselves in a vulnerable situation.

“It’s terrifying because 49 years ago, that’s how women died,” Minkin said.

“While some of the remedies suggested by TikTok users – like eating papaya or sesame seeds – simply won’t work, others, like ingesting mugwort, black cohosh, angelica root or pennyroyal, can in some cases be poisonous and cause not only the death of the fetus, but the woman herself.

Dr Mary Jane Minkin

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