Regaining Control

Taking Health Care Into Our Own Hands

by Liz Highleyman for the Boston Anarchafeminist Self-Health Group

This work originally appeared as a pamphlet in 1989 and has been reprinted in several publications including Live Wild or Die (Summer 1989), Anarchy: Journal of Desire Armed (1992), No Longer Silent (1992), and Maximum Rock'n'Roll (1992).

[Note from author (April 2008): Regaining Control was written nearly two decades ago, at a time when many activists believed the right to safe and legal abortion was in imminent peril. This was also before the widespread availability of emergency hormonal contraception (the "morning after pill," sold under various brand names including Plan B and Preven) and approval of the abortifacient pill RU486, now known as mifepristone (Mifeprex) and typically used in conjunction with a second drug, misoprostol. For the sake of historical interest, the text below has not been edited to bring it up to date.

Herbs used for abortion are generally only effective if used early, even before a missed period. If a woman suspects she might be pregnant within 72 hours after unprotected sex, emergency contraception is a highly effective option. Planned Parenthood and similar clinics can provide emergency contraception, and in some states it is available in pharmacies over-the-counter without a prescription. Remember that herbal abortificients have not been studied in formal clinical trials. Some can cause severe and potentially even fatal side effects. Please seek further advice and consider other alternatives before attempting an herbal abortion.]

Today in America, our right to control our bodies is under attack. Conservative politicians, the courts, and anti-abortion groups like Operation Rescue are eroding our freedom to make our own decisions about reproduction. George Bush has installed a ``gag rule'' that prevents practitioners at publicly-funded clinics from telling their clients about abortion as an option. In July 1989, the Supreme Court's Webster decision gave the states increased power to limit the availability of abortion. The Court will soon decide the constitutionality of a Pennsylvania law which requires a 24-hour waiting period for abortion and parental consent for women under 18. Many believe that this will be the case that leads to the repeal of Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision that legalized abortion. Though abortion is legally available today, it is inaccessible to many women, especially those who are young (due to parental consent restrictions), poor (due to prohibitions on the use of government money for abortion), or geographically isolated.

It is important that we educate ourselves and organize to take control of our bodies. We can learn about alternative abortion techniques and establish services such as the Jane Collective, an underground network of abortion providers in Chicago in the early 1970s. We can establish support networks for teenagers who must leave their homes or deal with the court system to obtain abortions. We can educate ourselves about alternative means of contraception and abortion such as traditional herbal methods. Much of this knowledge is kept alive by women in Native American and immigrant communities, and is being reclaimed by midwives, witches, herbal healers, and those who seek to develop health care outside the control of the medical establishment and the state. We can work for independent research, production, and distribution of new drugs such as the early abortifacient RU-486, which is being used effectively in France and elsewhere, but is denied women in this country due to threats from anti-abortion groups and fear of liability lawsuits.

While we must demand that the government respect our right to reproductive freedom, we cannot rely on the state. Legislators have a poor record of accountability on reproductive issues and Supreme Court justices are accountable to no one. Reproductive freedom is too crucial to be left to the state. We must claim for ourselves the right of reproductive choice, and take control of our health care and our lives into our own hands.

Are You Pregnant

There are many things besides pregnancy that can make you miss a period, including stress, diet, lack of sleep, or a change in schedule.

Common early signs of pregnancy (1-2 weeks after conception) are:

Pregnancy tests are available through many clinics and medical practitioners. Family planning and women's health services often offer anonymous free pregnancy testing. Look under ``Pregnancy Services'' in the yellow pages. Some centers that advertise free pregnancy tests (such as Birthright) are actually fronts for anti-abortion groups. Well known centers such as Planned Parenthood are a reliable choice.

You can buy home pregnancy testing kits in drug stores for about $10.00. These tests are easy to perform, but give false results more often than lab tests. Most of the tests used by clinics, as well as home tests, are urine tests. These are accurate for most women when a period is about 13 days late. Laboratory blood tests which can detect pregnancy as early as 7-12 days are available but expensive.

Pregnancy Termination

If you are pregnant, you have various options. Tragically, these options are often limited due to age, poverty, current family situation, previous commitments, and other factors. Possibilities include bearing and raising the child, giving the child up for adoption, or terminating the pregnancy. While the decision to have an abortion is not an easy one, it is one that many women feel is right for them.

Most abortions performed are surgical abortions using the suction or D&C method. Abortions are currently legally available, but are expensive (ranging from $200 to $800 depending on location and length of pregnancy), and women who are poor, young, or live outside of urban areas may have trouble obtaining them. Abortion laws vary from state to state.

Surgical abortions are safest when performed within the first 12 weeks (the first trimester). For information about abortion, contact the National Women's Health Network (202-347-1140), the National Abortion Federation (800-772-9100), a Planned Parenthood chapter, or look in the yellow pages under ``Pregnancy Services''. If you are a teenager, these services may be able to help if you need a court hearing to comply with parental consent laws. For information on feminist health care generally, contact the Federation of Feminist Women's Health Centers.

Alternative Abortion Methods

There are many alternatives to surgical abortion. These vary in safety and effectiveness. The following guidelines are applicable to all alternative methods. Whenever possible, consult with someone who is familiar with the technique you plan to use.

General Guidelines

1) The earlier these methods are used, the more effective they will be. It is best to use them between the first day you expect your period and the 10th day after it is due. Effectiveness will decrease significantly after this time.

2) Alternative methods are most useful for women with regular menstrual cycles. It is important to be familiar with your cycle as part of an overall program of reproductive health. You can determine your monthly cycle by charting it on a calendar over a period of time.

3) If these methods are not successful and you carry the pregnancy to term, or if you are breastfeeding, the effects on the fetus or infant are not known.

4) Start with a small dosage (to check for side effects) and move up to the full dosage in small increments if there are no adverse effects. Do not take more than the recommended dosage or for longer than the recommended duration. This will not increase the effectiveness, but may greatly increase the risk of serious side effects.

5) Do not use these methods if you have high blood pressure, epilepsy, allergies, diabetes, heart or kidney problems, or other health concerns, or if you are taking any drugs; doing so may aggravate existing medical problems or dangerously alter the way the method would normally work.

6) Do not use these methods if you have an IUD or if you have had a recent uterine or pelvic infection. These methods are ineffective if your period does not come while you are taking birth control pills.

7) These methods are not for contraception. Do not take them on a regular basis. Long term effects of prolonged use are not known.

8) Some side effects may be expected, such as nausea or short term vomiting or diarrhea, and cramps and moderate bleeding. If you develop severe side effects stop using the method immediately and seek medical care from a trained professional or the nearest hospital emergency room. Such side effects include convulsions, persistent vomiting or diarrhea, fainting, and severe bleeding (needing to use more than one pad in one half hour).

9) Stop using the method once your period starts, but continue if you only have spotting.

10) All abortion methods entail the risk of incomplete abortion. If possible, have backup access to surgical abortion in case the alternative method fails. To reduce the risk of infection after any abortion, do not use tampons for bleeding; use only menstrual pads.

Herbal Methods

Women have used herbs throughout the ages for abortion. This knowledge has been passed down through traditional practitioners. Herbal methods should not be used casually. They are medicine, and can be extremely dangerous if used improperly. It is important to be aware of your body and its reactions to the treatment. Learn as much as you can about the plants you wish to use. Herbs have varying effects on different women. It is important to get the advice of someone who has had experience using them. You may be able to locate an herbalist in your area through a women's center, health food store, or spirituality resource.

Most herbs are used by brewing them as a tea. This is done by boiling water over the herbs and letting them sit in a closed container for the recommended amount of time (water should be boiled in a covered, non-aluminum container). Strain the tea before drinking; do not eat the leaves, as they may be poisonous. Use only the recommended part of the plant. Do not confuse fresh or dried whole plant parts with herbal tinctures or herbal essential oils. Tinctures are concentrated and are used in much smaller amounts. Oils should not be used -- they may cause convulsions and death. Herbs can be found in health food stores and spiritual shops. Check the Latin name, since common names may vary (especially from region to region).

The herbs below are the ones we found the most information about and which seem to be most commonly used. Some of our data is from a report by a group of women in Europe who have been using these herbs successfully in an alternative abortion practice; other information is from books. We have verified the data using a variety of sources, and we consulted a professional herbalist for information and advice.

The best results are reported when using two plants in combination, one from List A and one from List B. The best seems to be pennyroyal and blue cohosh. Do not combine two herbs from the same list. See instructions for usage below.

List A

List B

Pennyroyal (Hedeoma pulegiodes)

(also known as American pennyroyal, mosquito plant, squaw mint, tickweed)

Part of plant: whole plant; do not use oil
Recipe: pour 1 cup boiling water over 1 teaspoon of dried herb, let steep for 15-20 minutes.
Dose: 1 cup, three times a day.
Duration: 6 days maximum.
Side effects: nausea, numbness of fingers and toes, sweating, dizziness, headache; pennyroyal oil may cause convulsions and death

Mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris)

Part of plant: leaves or flowers
Recipe: pour 1 cup boiling water over 1 teaspoon of dried herb, let steep for 15-20 minutes.
Dose: 1 cup, three times a day.
Duration: 6 days maximum.
Side effects: sweating, nausea.

Cotton root bark (Gossypium)

Part of plant:root (use only organically grown cotton root; commercially grown cotton contains dangerous pesticides).
Recipe: boil 1 ounce of root in 1 pint of water, leave to stand for 8 hours, dilute the resulting liquid with water: 1 teaspoon liquid to one cup of water.
Dose: 1 cup, three times a day.
Duration: 6 days maximum.
Side effects: nausea, vomiting.

Black Cohosh (Cimicifuga racemosa)

(also known as black snakeroot, bugbane, rattleweed, squawroot) Part of plant: (a) root or (b) tincture (buy pre-made)
Recipe: (a) boil 1 oz. root in water, leave to stand for 10 minutes, dilute the resulting liquid with water: 1 teaspoon liquid to one cup of water.
Dose: (a) 1 cup, three times a day (b) 5 drops, 3 times a day.
Duration: 6 days maximum for root or tincture.
Side effects: drowsiness, increased urination, nausea, vomiting, headache.

Blue Cohosh (Caulphyllum thalictroides)

(also known as beechdrops, blue ginseng, squawroot) Part of plant: root
Recipe: boil 1 oz. root in water, leave to stand for 10 minutes, dilute the resulting liquid with water: 1 teaspoon liquid to one cup of water.
Dose: 1 cup, three times a day
Duration: 6 days maximum
Side effects: drowsiness, increased urination, nausea, vomiting, headache.

Other Herbs

Many other herbs are reported to bring about abortion (for example, parsley, tansey, and yarrow). We found less information about these herbs, and much of the information is incomplete or inconsistent. If you want to learn more about them, consult an herbalist who has had experience using them for herbal abortions.

Rue (Ruta graveolens)

Part of plant: (a) leaves (b) tincture (buy pre-made)
Recipe: (a) pour $1\over 2$ cup boiling water over 1 teaspoon dried herb, let sit for 15 minutes
Dose: (a) $1\over 2$ cup a day (b) 10 drops, 4 times a day
Duration: 4 days
Side effects: nausea, vomiting

For Severe Bleeding

When using any abortion method, there is a risk of heavy bleeding. Shepherd's Purse will reduce bleeding. Keep it on hand when using alternative abortion techniques.

Shepherd's Purse (Capsella bursa-pastoris)

Part of plant: tincture (buy pre-made)
Dose: a few drops, applied under the tongue.
Duration: repeat at 15 minute intervals; if severe bleeding persists for more than 30 minutes, seek medical care.

Non-Herbal Methods

The following techniques are among the many non-herbal methods that have been used to induce abortion.

Vitamin C

Vitamin C is probably the safest of all methods listed. Drink plenty of fluids while taking Vitamin C to reduce stress on the kidneys (Vitamin C should not be used by women with kidney problems). Unlike herbal methods, some sources have reported Vitamin C to be effective up to 6 weeks after a missed period, although it is most effective when used early. Vitamin C should be taken one half hour before meals. Vitamin C is unlikely to induce abortion in women who take large doses (1 gram or more) regularly. Vitamin C can be purchased in powder or pill form in health food and drug stores. Vitamin C in large doses can cause diarrhea; using smaller concentrated pills instead of large chewable ones may reduce diarrhea because they contain less filler. Vitamin C may be combined with herbal methods.

Dose: 1 gram, 6 times a day
Duration: 5 days
Side effects: diarrhea, nausea

Additional Methods

The following methods can be used either alone or with herbal methods or Vitamin C. The usefulness of these methods is not clear, but some women have reported them to be effective.


Focus in the region of the uterus. Massage the ankle just below the ankle bone. Use your thumb held vertically to massage the bottom edge of the bone. The pressure must be deep and firm. Massage 5 minutes per foot several times a day. Deep, prolonged massage of the belly by a trained person may also bring about abortion.

Acupuncture and Acupressure

Acupuncture and acupressure must be done by someone who knows the appropriate technique. The Needle Spleen Pancreas (SP6) and Colon (C4) sites on both the left and right side are used. The needles should remain in for 30 minutes, during which time they should be stimulated every 2 minutes by turning them in a clockwise direction. Contractions should begin during the next hour or the following night.

Hot Baths

Hot baths are often mentioned as a method of inducing early abortion. Their effectiveness may be due to heat or relaxation and stress reduction.

Menstrual Extraction

Menstrual extraction is an alternative abortion technique developed at the Los Angeles Self Help Clinic in 1971 prior to the legalization of surgical abortion. The procedure is similar to a suction abortion, but involves minimal suction and does not require cervical dilation. It is done within the first six weeks of pregnancy. This technique involves equipment which can mostly be found in a hardware or kitchen supply store. Any tool that enters the uterus must be sterile. Menstrual extraction is best done within the context of a knowledgeable support group. All mechanical abortion methods carry a risk of injury and infection and must be done in a sanitary location by a trained and experienced person. Because this technique is complicated, we will not describe it here. Menstrual extraction is a good method to explore for those interested in providing alternative abortion services. An herbalist or women's health practitioner in your area may be able to give you more information, or contact the Federation of Feminist Women's Health Centers (address below).


Boston Women's Health Book Collective, The New Our Bodies, Our Selves, Simon & Schuster, New York, NY, 1984. A general book on women's health care and self-awareness.

Federation of Feminist Women's Health Centers, How to Stay Out of the Gynecologist's Office, 1981. A good book on self-help techniques. Other books and videos are available including information on menstrual extraction and self-examination. FFWHC is at 6221 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 419A, Los Angeles, CA 90048; phone 213-957-4062. Weed, Susan S., An Herbal for the Childbearing Years, Ash Tree Publishers, Woodstock, NY, 1986. A more advanced book on herbalism dealing with women's reproductive health.

The authors of this pamphlet are a group of Boston area anarcha-feminist women dedicated to putting health care into our own hands. One is a Physician Assistant. We have consulted a professional herbalist with training and experience in reproductive care and abortion, and we have researched a variety of books and resources from the U.S. and Europe.

Because information on alternative abortion has been repressed by the medical establishments and the state, much knowledge has been lost and many of the sources we have been able to locate are incomplete or inconsistent. We cannot guarantee the effectiveness of the techniques in this pamphlet. Herbal and other methods work differently for different people. We urge you to consult an herbalist or a feminist health practitioner if possible.

This pamphlet is solely the work of the authors; no organization, individual, or publication mentioned bears any responsibility for the contents.

Originally produced Spring 1989. Revised Spring 1992.

© 1989 Boston Anarchfeminist Self-Health Group.

May be reprinted for free if identifying information, disclaimers, and 2008 author note are included.

Liz Highleyman --