Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
An abortifacient is a substance that induces abortion.
The use of various herbs as abortifacients is a practice that predates history. Since humans of all cultures began using herbs as medicine, they have observed which herbs could lead to miscarriage and either shunned or embraced them as needs dictated. As the Catholic Church gained control of European society, women who dispensed abortifacient herbs found themselves classified as witches and were often persecuted (see witchhunt).
The ancient Greek colony of Cyrene at one time had an economy based almost entirely on the production and export of Silphium, a powerful abortificient in the parsley family. Silphium figured so prominently in the wealth of Cyrene that the plant appeared on the obverse and reverse of coins minted there. Silphium, which was native only to that part of Libya, was overharvested by the Greeks and was effectively driven to extinction.
Many herbs sold "over the counter" today, including Wild carrot, Black cohosh, Pennyroyal, Nutmeg, and Mugwort, are themselves abortifacients. Typically the labelling will contraindicate use by pregnant women, but will not contain an explanation for this contraindication.
King's American Dispensatory of 1898 recommended a mixture of brewers yeast and pennyroyal tea as "a safe and effective abortifacient".
Modern prescription drugs used as abortifacients today are controversial: the most prominent of these is Mifepristone. The methods of operation of these drugs is better understood than that of traditional herbal remedies, and where legal and socially acceptable they may be prescribed by a doctor.
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