Deadly abortion methods woman used in ancient times


With fervent discussions and debates about abortion, we actually forget that this is a procedure that has a long history. Like the society now, historical communities from Egypt to Greek and Roman too discussed the rights and necessities for a woman to control her body. Evidence suggests that diverse ancient societies too performed abortions.

The difference between now and then? Modern women in most developed and developing societies can buy abortion pill online or otherwise and go through a procedure which is mostly safe and successful; a stark difference from the reality of women in history.

Historical texts

There is no particular method for abortion that is recorded in the official history. There are texts from the ancient Greek where scholars (all male) had long discussions about the procedure – suggesting it wasn’t uncommon back then. While Quran doesn’t mention the subject, but there are several debates going on which discuss Islam’s position in it.  Even so, there are several ancient medical texts that describe the deadly and dangerous methods of abortion that women endured in those times where safe abortion was not an option.

Today’s women have the option to end their pregnancy by Misoprostol and Mifepristone abortion pills and surgery. These options are also somewhat painful and not completely risk free, but the methods describe below only scratch the surface of the amount of risk women took for aborting.

Aborting with Pennyroyal tea

One of the most known and used method of aborting in history was by drinking a tea made with a herb called pennyroyal, otherwise known as mentha pulegium. This abortifacient is a classified as a mint, but is also known as successful abortive drug and deeply poisonous.  In fact, just five grams of this mint can be toxic. It’s been known for its mention in the play by Aristophanes. It was probably extremely effective, but its potent toxicity caused by a component called pulegone made this drug a deadly remedy.

Inserting Crocodile feces vaginally

The Kahun Papyrus, an ancient Egyptian creation is one of the earliest medical texts in the history. Even if it lays tattered now, modern interpreters think that it specified an abortifacient, namely crocodile dung. This dung was made into a pessary with dough and then inserted into the vagina. It was meant to operate as birth control and a drug to induce a miscarriage. Crocodile dung does have qualities of spemicide, but is estimated to be more effective as a birth control rather than abortifacient.

Jumping and kicking yourself from the backside

Hippocrates, the great Greek physician was opposed to abortion. Even so, he had recommended a technique in his text for abortion. This included jumping up and down while touching the buttocks with the heels of the foot with each leap. It was believed to shake the embryo loose and fall out. This method, Lacedaemonian leap (as it is now known) was proven to be false. Agitating the embryo through mild exercise is not enough to cause an abortion.


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