In this medieval image, a midwife prepares a pennyroyal mixture for a pregnant woman.

An abortifacient is a substance that induces abortion. Abortifacients for animals that have mated undesirably are known as mismating shots.

Common abortifacients used in performing medical abortions include mifepristone, which is typically used in conjunction with misoprostol in a two-step approach.[1] There are also several herbal mixtures with abortifacient claims, though there are no available data on the efficacy of these plants in humans.[2]


Pharmaceutical abortifacients

Prostaglandin analogues, such as misoprostol or gemeprost[3] (both synthetic prostaglandin E1 (PGE1) analogues), are often used to terminate pregnancy up to 24[4] or 60[3] days of gestation, in combination with mifepristone (a progesterone receptor antagonist) or methotrexate (an antifolate). Misoprostol administered vaginally is more effective than when administered orally.[5] Misoprostol is approved in France under the trade name GyMiso for use with mifepristone for medical abortion. Misoprostol is used off-label with mifepristone for medical abortion in the U.S. Dinoprostone, given by the extra-amniotic route, can be used for late abortion (second trimester).[3]

Mifepristone is a progesterone receptor antagonist also known as RU-486. It is marketed under the trade name Mifegyne in France and countries other than the U.S., and under the trade name Mifeprex in the U.S. It is used in conjunction with a prostaglandin analogue.

Misoprostol alone is sometimes used for self-induced abortion in Latin American countries where legal abortion is not available, and by some people in the United States who cannot afford a legal abortion.[6]

Natural abortifacients

Numerous non-pharmaceutial abortifacients existed during the pre-pharmaceutical era. These included herbal, mineral, and ritualistic or spiritual preparations. The effectiveness thereof is difficult to determine, as almost all such uses occurred before the days of clinical trials and the scientific method. Of those that remain in use in the modern day, some are considered effective to a lesser or greater degree; while others are very effective, but carry negative side effects (primarily toxicity) which keep them from wider prevalence.

Today, many herbs and plants sold "over the counter" are claimed to act as abortifacients, either by themselves or if taken in certain doses or mixtures.[citation needed] Examples include brewer's yeast,[7] vitamin C, bitter melon,[8] wild carrot, blue cohosh, pennyroyal, nutmeg, mugwort, slippery elm, papaya, vervain, common rue, ergot, saffron and tansy. Animal studies have shown that pomegranate may be an effective abortifacient.[2][9]


Ancient silver coin from Cyrene depicting a stalk of Silphium.

The ancient Greek colony of Cyrene at one time had an economy based almost entirely on the production and export of silphium, considered a powerful abortifacient.[10] Silphium figured so prominently in the wealth of Cyrene that the plant appeared on coins minted there. Silphium, which was native only to that part of Libya, was overharvested by the Greeks and was effectively driven to extinction.[10] The standard theory, however, has been challenged by a whole spectrum of alternatives (from an extinction due to climate factors, to the so-coveted product being in fact a recipe made of a composite of herbs, attribution to a single species meant perhaps as a disinformation attempt).

In aboriginal Australia, plants such as cymbidium madidum, petalostigma pubescens, Eucalyptus gamophylla were ingested or the body/vagina was smoked with Erythropleum chlorostachyum.[11]

As Christianity and in particular the institution of the Catholic Church increasingly influenced European society, those who dispensed abortifacient herbs found themselves classified as witches and were often persecuted (see witch-hunt).[12]

Medieval Muslim physicians documented detailed and extensive lists of birth control practices, including the use of abortifacients,[citation needed] commenting on their effectiveness and prevalence. The use of abortifacients was acceptable to Islamic jurists provided that the abortion occurs within 120 days, the point when the fetus is considered to become fully human and receive its soul.[13]

In English law, abortion did not become illegal until 1803. English folk practice before and after that time held that fetal life was not present until quickening. "Women who took drugs before that time would describe their actions as 'restoring the menses' or 'bringing on a period'." [14] Abortifacients—not necessarily safe or effective—used by women in England in the 19th century included diachylon, savin, ergot of rye, pennyroyal, slippery elm, nutmeg, rue, squills, and hiera picra.[15]

See also


  1. ^ Planned Parenthood. "The Abortion Pill (Medication Abortion)". http://www.plannedparenthood.org/health-topics/abortion/abortion-pill-medication-abortion-4354.htm. Retrieved 2009-01-22. 
  2. ^ a b Riddle, John M. (1992). Contraception and Abortion from the Ancient World to the Renaissance. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
  3. ^ a b c Rod Flower; Humphrey P. Rang; Maureen M. Dale; Ritter, James M. (2007). Rang & Dale's pharmacology. Edinburgh: Churchill Livingstone. ISBN 0-443-06911-5. 
  4. ^ Bartley J, Brown A, Elton R, Baird DT (October 2001). "Double-blind randomized trial of mifepristone in combination with vaginal gemeprost or misoprostol for induction of abortion up to 63 days gestation". Human reproduction (Oxford, England) 16 (10): 2098–102. doi:10.1093/humrep/16.10.2098. PMID 11574498. http://humrep.oxfordjournals.org/cgi/pmidlookup?view=long&pmid=11574498. Retrieved 2008-10-29. 
  5. ^ Kulier R, Gülmezoglu AM, Hofmeyr GJ, Cheng LN, Campana A (2004). Kulier, Regina. ed. "Medical methods for first trimester abortion". Cochrane Database Syst Rev (2): CD002855. doi:10.1002/14651858.CD002855.pub3. PMID 15106180. 
  6. ^ John Leland: "Abortion Might Outgrow Its Need for Roe v. Wade", The New York Times, October 2, 2005
  7. ^ King's American Dispensatory of 1898
  8. ^ A Woman's Book of Choices: Abortion, Menstrual Extraction, RU-486 by Rebecca Chalker and Carol Downer
  9. ^ Riddle, John M. (1997). Eve's Herbs: A History of Contraception and Abortion in the West. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
  10. ^ a b Chip Rossetti, Devil’s Dung - The World’s Smelliest Spice, Saudi Armaco World, 2009
  11. ^ Bush food: Aboriginal food and herbal medicine by Jennifer Isaacs
  12. ^ Kramer, Heinrich, & Sprenger, Jacob. (1487). Malleus Maleficarum. (Montague Summers, Trans.). Retrieved June 3, 2006.
  13. ^ Sheikh, Sa'diyya (2003). "Family Planning, Contraception, and Abortion in Islam". In Maguire, Daniel C.. Sacred Rights: The Case for Contraception and Abortion in World Religions. Oxford University Press US. pp. 105–128 [105–6]. ISBN 0-19-516001-0. 
  14. ^ McLaren, Angus (1978). Birth Control in Nineteenth-Century England. Holmes & Meier Publishers, Inc. US. pp. 31, 246. ISBN 0-8419-0349-2. 
  15. ^ Lancet, 2 (1899) pp.1844-5, cited by McLaren, p. 241
  16. ^ Rediscovering Rumphius

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • Abortifacient — A*bor ti*fa cient ([.a]*b[^o]r t[i^]*f[=a] shent), a. [L. abortus (see {Abort}, v.) + faciens, p. pr. of facere to make.] Producing miscarriage. n. A drug or an agent that causes premature delivery. [1913 Webster] …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • abortifacient — (n.) 1875, noun and adjective, from L. abortus (see ABORTIVE (Cf. abortive)) + facientem making, related to facere do (see FACTITIOUS (Cf. factitious)). An earlier word for this in the noun sense was abortive (1640s) …   Etymology dictionary

  • abortifacient — [ə bôrt΄ə fā′shənt] adj. [< ABORTI(ON) + FACIENT] causing abortion n. a drug or agent that causes abortion …   English World dictionary

  • abortifacient — Abortive A*bor tive, n. 1. That which is born or brought forth prematurely; an abortion. [Obs.] Shak. [1913 Webster] 2. A fruitless effort or issue. [Obs.] [1913 Webster] 3. A medicine to which is attributed the property of causing abortion; also …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • abortifacient — noun Date: 1873 an agent (as a drug) that induces abortion • abortifacient adjective …   New Collegiate Dictionary

  • abortifacient — /euh bawr teuh fay sheuhnt/, adj. 1. causing abortion. n. 2. a drug or device used to cause abortion: a biochemical abortifacient in pill form. [1870 75; ABORT + I + FACIENT] * * * …   Universalium

  • abortifacient — 1. Producing abortion. SYN: aborticide, abortient, abortigenic, abortive (3). 2. An agent that produces abortion. [L. abortus, abortion, + facio, to make] * * * abor·ti·fa·cient ə .bȯrt ə fā shənt adj inducing abortion abortifacien …   Medical dictionary

  • abortifacient Medicine — [əˌbɔ:tɪ feɪʃ(ə)nt] adjective (of a drug) causing abortion. noun an abortifacient drug …   English new terms dictionary

  • abortifacient — 1. adjective Producing miscarriage 2. noun A drug or an agent that causes premature delivery …   Wiktionary

  • abortifacient — tɪ feɪʃənt n. drug which causes abortion, agent which causes the premature termination of a pregnancy adj. causing the premature termination of a pregnancy, inducing abortion (of a drug) …   English contemporary dictionary

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