useful feminist knowledge: safe home abortion methods

by Miska

I’m Australian, but a good portion of the feminist blogosphere is American. Hence I get exposed to a lot of US news of feminist interest. One thing that always astounds me is how controversial abortion is in the US. Not a week goes by without more news of abortion being restricted, or potentially restricted.

And I read all this stuff, the constant assault on the most basic human right for bodily autonomy, and I am kind of horrified that this is what American women have to put up with.

Not that Australia is some golden utopia of women’s liberation, but abortion is pretty much a non-issue. So much so, that last year during our federal election the conservative candidate Tony Abbott, a known catholic, had to promise that he wouldn’t meddle with the abortion laws if elected.

So, you know. It’s a bit different here.

But even though the majority of Australia is in favor of legal abortion access, I have no doubt that public opinion could change at any time, as it so often has against women in the past. And it’s just a fact that so long as piv is conflated with sex (ie. so long as there is patriarchy), women will require access to safe and legal abortion. And indeed women should always have access to it anyway, patriarchy or not.

One thing that distinguishes radical feminism from liberal feminism, is that radical feminism acknowledges that women can’t rely on men’s benevolence for anything, because their benevolence is always highly conditional – if women started refusing piv, you can bet men would get rid of legal abortion faster than it takes for an erect penis to deflate. If we trust men to grant us access to abortion, we also have to trust them not to take away this access. And 2000+ years of patriarchy has shown us that men can’t be trusted when it comes to women’s rights.

Essentially, sisters got to do it for themselves.

I have a particular interest in the practical ways women circumvent the patriarchy, and it was this interest that led to me to research home abortion methods that were safe (at least, safe relative to coathanger-style butchery methods). There’s quite a bit of info about different herbs out there, but toxicity is a very real risk when it comes to high herbal doses, and many herbs are so risky that they really should be avoided altogether (ie pennyroyal).

There is one herbal method that appears relatively safe though, and that is using parsley in combination with vitamin C. A radfem wrote about this method a few years ago, and it’s an interesting read. More info on different herbs for abortion can be found here.

A non-herbal method is menstrual extraction. It was developed by a women’s group in the 70s, and it’s a non-traumatic suction abortion method. The wiki page has obviously been written by a woman, so it’s quite good. There’s also a pdf available online: The whats hows and whys of menstrual extraction which has more detail.

Regardless of the legal status of abortion, all this info should be common knowledge for feminists. Not only because a time may come when women have to rely on these methods, but also because it’s an important part of women’s history and knowledge.

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25 Comments to “useful feminist knowledge: safe home abortion methods”

  1. Fabulous! Women’s history really gets erased, so in the US we have people who seem to believe that there are only two options for abortion, horrid back alleys or the government in charge of making it safe and doling it out as they deem fit. Needless to say when you hand all your power over like that, what the Gov controls, the Gov can taketh away and restrict.

    People do not even seem aware of the fact that we used to have midwives perform abortions, that women have been taking care of themselves safely for centuries. The back alley boogieman is a really recent theme and came to be when men were put in charge of abortion. The same thing happened with the medical profession, women had been safely giving birth for centuries, but when doctors ran the midwives out, we started having all sorts of health problems. Traditional doctors worked with illness and disease and didn’t know about washing their hands so they frequently infected mothers and newborns. Up until that point midwives only dealt with mothers, often at home where they wouldn’t be exposed to new germs. Traditional doctors also knew absolutely nothing about women’s bodies, believing that a uterus caused hysteria or that women don’t have any nerves or blood flow in that area. So in a way, men’s incompetence and disrespect for women’s bodies is what caused the back alley phenomenon in the first place. Then they turn around and convince us that only they are qualified to protect us from this horror, a horror that they created. It’s kind of insane.

    In this day and age with all our medical advances and things like the abortion pill, it’s kind of ridiculous to believe that women shouldn’t be in complete charge of their own reproductive health. Of course from a rad/fem perspective, I think that causing an unwanted pregnancy should be viewed as an assault. I’d like to see a fertility tax placed on men to help fund any potential damages they might cause.

    Prolife, prochoice, left, right, doesn’t matter, they’ve all bought the same message that “somebody” has the power to end abortion. A few thousand years of history debunks that. We need to reframe the whole issue.

  2. This is great, Miska. As a lesbian, my late periods are usually an annoyance rather than cause for BABY PANIC. Thanks goddess! I cannot tell you how happy this makes me. The reasonable fear of being pregnant is something that those without a uterus simply cannot understand.

    Now, lets talk about my period! It is very often late, usually running close 35 days. When this happens, my PMS rages (honey, you know that’s bad!) and I have found that munching on some PARSLEY works MAGIC for bringing on the bleed. Like I need an excuse to eat tabouli, either. In conclusion, I highly recommend the use of parsley for your menstruation- inducing needs.

  3. I remember reading in the novel Manon des Sources by Marcel Pagnol, that French women would make a tisane out of the (illegal) herb ‘rue’ at the end of the nineteenth century or thereabouts. Pagnol was not a radical feminist!, but he did have a fascination with the provencal countryside and by default all the herbs and vegetation that grew there. Preserving knowledge of the region was the motivation for his novel.
    Anyway.. he just slipped that local, rural knowledge into the novel and I was like > WOW. THat’s really significant, and I’m sure Pagnol didn’t quite catch how important it was.
    In the novel the three women that live in the hills lives sustainably and one of the ways they made money was by selling herbs at the market. Rue was one of the herbs they sold there (in secret.) He even mentioned that the goats would eat rue if they didn’t want to continue with their pregancy!!!!! It’s not a coincidence that men have ripped us away from mother nature.

    I also think that an easy solutiion to countries that make abortion difficult (the UK conservative government is beginning to cause problems here too) is for women to go on a sex strike. It’s the logical consequence of men’s silly abortion laws.

  4. OMG, UP does that work? A couple years ago my period was due right around my birthday and I didn’t want it to show up while I was on my trip so I took a lot of parsley tea for three days the week before my trip which did exactly nothing. My period came about three days prior which wasn’t enough lead time to avoid the trip. But perhaps I should have chewed it instead? I’m glad to know this worked for someone.

  5. @FF: Well, it works for me. I EAT it. Like I’m hungry for parsley. Sometimes I have to eat it 2 days in a row. But nothing else compares. Not even close. And when I’m pushing 35 days, a sister needs to bleed.

  6. @UP

    I had never heard about the parsley thing before. Incidentally I do eat quite a lot of tabouli anyway, but I never noticed a connection between parsley and periods. I am going to experiment with this though. It’s possible that it doesnt work for some women because of different body chemistry, maybe? Or maybe it didnt work for you femmeforever cause it can only bring on a late period, but not make one come early?

    It would be so great to have a natural way to time periods.

  7. @yttik Needless to say when you hand all your power over like that, what the Gov controls, the Gov can taketh away and restrict.

    People do not even seem aware of the fact that we used to have midwives perform abortions, that women have been taking care of themselves safely for centuries. The back alley boogieman is a really recent theme and came to be when men were put in charge of abortion.

    Yeah, and GOV means rich white males. Even though abortion has nothing to do with them, at all. It should be none of their business.

    And absolutely, it is a false dichotomy between safe medical abortion and back-alley butchery, when like anything there is a grey area in between. And that grey area has made up the bulk of abortions for thousands of years.

    Of course from a rad/fem perspective, I think that causing an unwanted pregnancy should be viewed as an assault. I’d like to see a fertility tax placed on men to help fund any potential damages they might cause.

    That’s an incredibly sensible idea.

  8. @cherry I remember reading in the novel Manon des Sources by Marcel Pagnol, that French women would make a tisane out of the (illegal) herb ‘rue’ at the end of the nineteenth century or thereabouts. Pagnol was not a radical feminist!, but he did have a fascination with the provencal countryside and by default all the herbs and vegetation that grew there. Preserving knowledge of the region was the motivation for his novel.
    Anyway.. he just slipped that local, rural knowledge into the novel and I was like > WOW. THat’s really significant, and I’m sure Pagnol didn’t quite catch how important it was.

    Ha! Of course he didnt realise how significant it was, pregnancy is only an abstract concept for men, a little side note in the history of human civilisation. What a joke.

    I think this is all so interesting. Probably most areas of the word have abortifacient herbs that were used by women, and I wonder how much of this knowledge was lost through colonialisation etc.

  9. Thanks Miska! This convo reminded me of the book “When Women Rebel” by Carol Andreas. It details the rise of popular feminism in Peru and one of the main issues was that women had previously had control over their reproduction and had access to centuries of knowledge about what plants they could use to abort. With colonialism women found themselves without any access to expensive westernized healthcare and also without any access to the knowledge their foremothers held, which kept them in a tight bind. Women all over the world have used and had knowledge of how to stop unwanted pregnancies. Its so important we carry on those traditions. I agree.

    I will say that knowing this stuff is awesome but I do worry that many people involved in the pro-choice side of things tend to focus too much on what we do when abortion becomes illegal. I think its pivotal we fight to make sure that doesn’t happen here and now. Not every town has a network of feminists that can save womens lives.

  10. Do women in general talk about the erosion of reproductive rights in the US? I only see the feminist side of things, but I wonder how other women are responding to it (if at all).

  11. @Miska: Not so much that I’ve seen or heard. I only see feminists talking about it, and the occasional woman who just thinks that’s a personal matter, but most people in this country vehemently oppose abortion. In fact, I think I read somewhere that public opinion’s percentage of approval is no more than 20%, or maybe 30%. Literally everyone I know IRL, save one other girl, is adamantly against abortion. 😦

  12. I think you have all hurt of this organization, but I would like to link it here again:

    http://www.womenonwaves.org/

    They have a lot of resources on home abortions too.

  13. All depends on where you read about the opinion. A Gallup poll from ’09 shows that people who want abortion to be illegal in all cases is in the teens:
    http://www.gallup.com/poll/122033/u.s.-abortion-attitudes-closely-divided.aspx

    I wonder if women aren’t talking about what’s happening in the U.S. because they’re in denial. Roe v. Wade happened nearly 40 years ago — most women who use birth control and get abortions have never known a time when they couldn’t. Obviously it’s a very different scenario for women in areas where abortion is impossible to get or where birth control is frowned on or when abortion or birth control are too expensive, but they know it’s out there — it isn’t outright illegal yet. Of course we know that making it impossible is the same thing, but it’s kind of like how not having a draft makes a whole lot of people ignore what happens in the wars we’re in. There aren’t enough women who are being denied yet. I’m hoping that when they are, women will react. It’s too bad that it’s going to take something like that happening to wake women up though.

  14. yttik said: “Then they turn around and convince us that only they are qualified to protect us from this horror, a horror that they created. It’s kind of insane.”

    Hells yeah. Its the same model as organised crime. They offer us conditional protection against a threat of their own making.

  15. Omg Linda. What an incredibly apt analogy. Just, yes.

  16. Perfect, Linda, extortion is exactly what it is.

  17. @yttik

    I lurrrve the idea of a fertility tax except I think it should be a misogyny tax paid directly to women large enough to pay for all man-related damages like abortions, disparity in income, mental health services as a result of male damage to women, DV and rape services, birth expenses, harassment, etc. Women would be able to file a complaints per occurrence. So if 40% of women file complaints all men in the area (state or federally) men loose 40% of their income in direct disbursements to women. After we add up all the damages that should pay women a huge portion of their income. That should adjust some of that boys will be boys behavior.

  18. Rue is an ancient symbol of the Stregheria (Italian witchcraft tradition) and a well known abortifacient, it is also poisonous and has to be used correctly. Cimaruta (meaning, sprig of rue) symbols, dating from Etruscan times (circa,700 BC) can be found in the Bologna Museum.
    Sadly, men have known for a long time about herbal abortifacients; one of the reasons for the persecution of witches was because of their knowledge of contraception. Men are very focused on reproduction: imagine if we had to go through them for permission to have children! Even those not keen on reproducing themselves, will have considered the problem in some depth. They, as a group, have done everything possible to prevent us from exercising our choice, over who is and who is not taken with us into the next generation.

    Sage tea is good for reducing the length of periods.

  19. @Miska: It’s possible that it doesnt work for some women because of different body chemistry, maybe? Or maybe it didnt work for you femmeforever cause it can only bring on a late period, but not make one come early?

    Yes and yes, especially to the first question.

    Re: whether people talk abortion about in the states…well, all my people are pro-choice. like, EVERYONE. But this is one of the excellent side effects of being an out lesbian: peeps who can deal with that, are usually politically liberal across the board. I also live in one of the most progressive areas in the country. On purpose. I’m never leaving!!!!! I have one friend from Texas who is pretty vigilantly involved in supporting CHOICE organizations. But other than that, yeah, it’s been SILENCED into a non-issue for progressive people. The Republicans keep trying to erode our access, but there is no widespread passion from females to protect our reproductive freedoms. Tragically.

  20. @Noanodyne: I’d like to know where this place is that you live and move there, ahahaha! 🙂 No, in Indiana, where I have the misfortune to reside, the Repubs, have managed to cut funding for Planned Parenthood. By and large, not a whole lot is being done, although down in Indy and in FW there have been some demos and protests and marches and whatnot, for which I am glad.

  21. What ever crumbs fall off the patriarchs table for womon , are loaded with benefits for themselves and when those benefits are no longer required, rights are withdrawn…
    I had an abortion when I was just 17, it was a terrible experience because it was still illegal unless you were declared mad or in danger of harming yourself. If my Mother and GMother had known wommonish methods for aborting I would never have had to go through the nightmare of having my abdomen ripped open by a fat gluttonous bastard who called himself a doctor at 5mths …. which has left me with a life long 8 inch scar from my navel to pubis , just the patriarchs reminder of whose in charge…..I will defend the right to a safe within limits no time wasting abortion to my dying day along with the morning after pill…..no good relying on men to defend our reproductive rights…..or any other rights that leave them on the back-foot…….

  22. All true, and I am so glad that abortion has been available in the US. I’d like to add a huge concern, though; the selective abortion of girl fetuses. The current estimate so far is over 160,000,000 “missing” girls worldwide so far. There are countries where the ratio of boy to girl babies is 1.5 to 1. Thinking about this, I see that “our” technology has been utterly co-opted and manipulated by the patriarchic systems in those countries. Women have the “right” to abortions, but their bodies are not under their control. The right-wing in this country is jumping like an opportunistic tarantula on this, using it as an anti-abortion argument. It’s all so insane, one step forward, and the horrendous, utterly unexpected drag-back.

  23. I was there when the menstrual extraction was invented. I worked for the feminist women’s health center. The line about that menstrual extraction does”not hurt” is not true. Sucking out of your womb the blood inner lining is a mini abortion.
    I saw the women suffer, i would rather use the herbal teas, but NEVER take anything like the OIL of any aborticifients.
    You can die from that.
    Lets talk about the responsibility of the MEN Not to knock women up when its not desired. Abortion should be a men’s issue. What can men do for women and themselves to not needing an abortion?? Use condoms. men get prissy when it comes to their own responsibility for their own sperm.

  24. “What can men do for women and themselves to not needing an abortion??” They can keep their dicks out of women. Period. And women can and should expect that and accept no less.

  25. Be very, very careful with herbal abortifacients. If it’s toxic enough to kill a fetus, it’s toxic enough to kill a woman. I’ve seen women make themselves deathly ill trying to induce a “natural” abortion. There is nothing natural about it. Pennyroyal oil, for instance, is always popular amongst the alternative crowd, and it has killed women. Please, please, don’t do it. Yes, if abortion becomes illegal, many women will be driven to unsafe remedies, which is why we can’t let it come to that. And Z Budapest is telling the truth–menstrual extraction hurts like hell. I have been present at more than one and it can be gruesome. I don’t want women to romanticize what are in truth desperate and dangerous measures.

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