Herbal abortions have been around for centuries. But as women's reproductive rights become more restricted, the worrying Vitamin C method is being shared online.'
Words by Pascale Day
Terminations have been legal in the UK since the late sixties and in America since Roe v. Wade in 1973 giving us the sense that it is our ineradicable right.
But now, for America at least, it seems that women must face the reality the right to an abortion is very much under threat.
For women in countries where healthcare comes at a cost, monetary or otherwise, the price of an abortion is often just too steep driving many who are desperate to wade into the treacherous waters of online medical advice, a world awash with pseudo-scientific DIY remedies.
In 2015, there were over 700,000 Google searches in the US that asked how to self-induce an abortion. Tens of thousands of those searches specified abortion using vitamin C or other herbs.
Herbal abortions have been around for centuries and, as a pamphlet from 1981 shows, vitamin C has been a noted abortifacient for decades. But it is only with the rise of the internet that the method has really gained traction.
The immediacy of the internet provides women with a wealth of options at breakneck speed: ‘Vitamin C abortion’ returns around 667,000 search results in 0.78 seconds. It’s easier and quicker to ask Google or Reddit or even Twitter for anecdotal medical advice rather than to schedule an appointment with your doctor.
This, teamed with the fact that the stigma of abortion is still so deep-rooted that even doctors are afraid to train as abortion specialists, makes the internet, for some, a safe space to get abortion advice quickly and without judgement.
This vast number of Google searches in the US speak for themselves. However, restrictions on reproductive rights apply closer to home, too. Abortion in Ireland is illegal unless the life of the mother is at risk. So strict are their laws that in 2014, a 21-year-old woman in Northern Ireland who took abortion tablets bought online, received a suspended prison sentence after her housemates reported her to the police.
The Isle of Man, although less strict than Ireland, has laws with a number of restrictions that make the process difficult, and there are no organisations on the Isle of Man that can help to facilitate abortions.
Though a clinical abortion in the UK is legal, self-aborting is not. Barring Ireland, the UK has one of the harshest punishments for self-induced abortion than any other country in Europe, which, in extreme cases can lead to life imprisonment.
New data provided by BPAS from the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency shows that there has been a huge shift in the number of women in England, Wales and Scotland looking to procure abortion pills, jumping from just 5 pills in 2013 to 275 in 2016. Last year, 645 abortion pills were seized on their way to UK addresses.
This is where the ascorbic acid comes in. Women are able to get their hands on high doses of it. One blog claims that 6000mg of vitamin C each day for three days is sufficient. Standard tablets can contain anywhere between 200-1000mg of vitamin C.
Others suggest parsley tea or insertion of organic parsley directly into the vagina as a pessary.
On one site, Sister Zeus, the author offers the disclaimer that the information provided is 'not intended as a guide,' but goes on to provide step-by-step instructions on how to use herbs and vitamin C to induce an abortion, and writes copious analyses that are riddled with fallacies and factual blind spots. But medical experts strongly advise against following the advice of such sites and blogs which pose serious health threats.
The appeal of vitamin C over other herbs might be that, whilst no one really knows the effects of large amounts of ascorbic acid on the body, it is considered generally less harmful than herbs like Pennyroyal, which in some cases has caused death. A 1970s study in a Russian scientific journal, considered the first and only real study of vitamin C as an abortifacient, concluded that the high levels of vitamin C stimulated the release of oestrogen, triggering a miscarriage, but did not have any harmful side effects short term.
But there are plenty of horror stories from women who have tried such techniques with devastating effects including incomplete abortions requiring urgent medical care.
Sadly such accounts just illustrate the desperate lengths many women will go to when their rights to safe abortions is restricted. It is naïve to think that limiting a woman’s access to clinical abortions means that there will be fewer abortions. Simplistically banning abortion doesn’t stop desperate women from seeking them out and getting them. It just makes the experience more expensive, more dangerous, and perhaps worst of all, more lonely.
Marie Claire Newsletter
Celebrity news, beauty, fashion advice, and fascinating features, delivered straight to your inbox!
The leading destination for fashion, beauty, shopping and finger-on-the-pulse views on the latest issues. Marie Claire's travel content helps you delight in discovering new destinations around the globe, offering a unique – and sometimes unchartered – travel experience. From new hotel openings to the destinations tipped to take over our travel calendars, this iconic name has it covered.
The 5 biggest claims from Endgame, the explosive new royal book from Omid Scobie
It has been making a lot of headlines this week
By Lauren Hughes
Sabrina Carpenter had a hilarious justification for controversial church music video
By Iris Goldsztajn
To officially kick off the festive season, our two expert editors name these 7 beauty gifts the best of the best
Welcome to a Christmas special Beauty Desk Drop
By Shannon Lawlor
This is how Melinda Gates is fighting for family planning services
And it's about to make a big difference
By Rosie Benson
Northern Irish women gain access to free abortion on the NHS
Stella Creasy MP led the campaign for an amendment in the law ahead of a government debate
By Rosie Benson
The reality of life as a woman in the shadow of the DUP
Just 24 hours after a DUP-Conservative Alliance was put forward by Theresa May, there are reports that the Democratic Unionist Party could push for amendments to UK abortion laws as part of their support for May's flailing government. CAITLIN DE JODE, who grew up with the reality of this deeply conservative party in Ireland reveals why Theresa May's new partnership is deeply worrying for all of us. Here's her account.
By Andrea Thompson
Meet the pro-choice crusader changing the lives of women
Mara Clarke founded the Abortion Support Network, which provides non-judgemental advice, financial assistance and accommodation to women travelling from Ireland and the Isle of Man to access safe terminations. Marie Claire's Hilal Seven hears her story
By Marie Claire
Some men have just said the *stupidest* thing about birth control
And people on Twitter have responded accordingly
By Delphine Chui
Accessing the morning after pill in the UK: extortionate costs and unnecessary consultations
'It’s taking people who need an emergency treatment and profiteering from that'
By Marie Claire
Are you joining the women's strike today?
Here's what you should know first
By Andrea Thompson
How being a woman has changed over 100 years
Women have come a long way since 1917 -when we couldn't vote, get legal protection from marital rape, or initiative divorce
By Rosie Benson