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Abortifacient Meaning

The abortifacient definition refers to the chemical or biochemical compounds that can cause abortion. Abortion is the process of terminating the end product of fertilization that is embryo within or before 28 weeks of the pregnancy. 

Abortifacient meaning includes abortion and expulsion of the embryo from the body. About 300 out of 1000 pregnancies are aborted in the developing nations which are about 30%  of the total, it is important to note that abortion is a very common part of fertility regulation. 

Abortions can be done due to various reasons as, unwanted pregnancy, complications in pregnancy, forced or illegal abortion, female foeticide is also among the major factor contributing to this high percentage.  Abortifacients can be categorized into natural abortifacients also known as herbal abortifacients. Another class of abortifacients includes chemical abortifacients


The history of abortifacients dates back to ancient times in human civilization, Carl Linnaeus, who is also known as the father of modern botany has documented various medical plants that act as natural abortifacients. These plants have the capability of expelling embryos from the maternal body causing abortion. 

The plants that were documented by Carl Linnaeus included the following, (Mentha pulegium), angelica (Angelica species), and tansy (Tanacetum vulgare).

These were recorded in the book named Materia medica. According to the documentation by historians abortifacient were very common in the early 17 and 18th century, it is only after the reinforcement by the catholic church in the 1830s, abortion and medical termination of pregnancy were considered illegal.

It is important to note that even today abortion has many political and religious issues associated with it, it leads to the development of taboo and a high rate of illegal abortions. With the increasing rate of illegal abortions, the health of females has seen a decline.

Natural Abortifacients

These are the botanical compounds or plant extracts that can induce abortion thus acting as abortifacient according to the abortifacient meaning. There is not enough scientifically published information about the mechanism of action of these drugs, or the relative safety of these drugs when ingested. There are several review papers published to draw a statistical value of lethality or toxicity attributed to the ingestion of these herbal abortifacients. 

According to the study conducted by the toxicological department of Uruguay, natural abortifacients showed a high risk of morbidity and mortality. Around 86 people participated in the study who had ingested one or other kinds of herbal abortifacient.  The exact mechanism of the infusions is still not known, but it is hypothesized that mechanical and biochemical degradation of the uterine lining causes the abortion. There are the following risk signs and symptoms associated with ingestion of herbal abortifacient such as,

  1. Abdominal pain

  2.  Vomiting

  3.  Genital haemorrhage

  4.  Abortion 

  5. Anaemia 

  6. Jaundice 

  7. Liver enlargement Oligo-anuria 

  8. Neurologic depression 

  9. Respiratory distress 

  10.  Increased concentration of potassium and, creatinine

  11. In some more severe cases, the patient ingesting the herb may MOSF, which refers to multiple organ system failures which very lethal and often results in death and sometimes paralysis.

There are some commonly used plants, plant extract, and infusion of different herbs that are used as natural abortifacients, following is the list of abortifacients that are widely used by people.

  • Ruta chalepensis

  •  Lycopodium Saururus 

  • Petroselinum hortense 

  • Mentha pulegium

  • Margiricarpus pınnatus 

  • Origanum vulgare

  • Arnica montana 

  • Apium spp 

  • Artemisia absinthium 

  • Brugmansia arborea

  • Arctium minus 

  • Myristica fragans 

  • Nicotiana glauca 

  • Eupatorium spp 

  • Luhea divaricate 

  • Bauhinia forficata

  • Allium sativum

  • Anise

  • Aloe arborescens

  • Cinnamomum spp 

  • Cynara spp

  • Solanum sisymbriifolium 

  • Foeniculum vulgare 

Tansy abortifacient and mugwort abortifacient are the two most common natural abortifacients; they have also been mentioned in the book of Carl Linneaus. Tansy abortifacient apart from causing abortion, are used to treat diseases like stomach and intestinal ulcers, certain gallbladder conditions, gas, bloating, stomachache, stomach spasms, and poor appetite. But even with these plants, there is not enough medical evidence to support their safety and effectiveness for termination of pregnancy.

Chemical Abortifacient

These are the drugs or the chemical compounds that are used to medically terminate the pregnancy. It is important to note that abortifacient meaning only includes termination of pregnancy; they are not contraceptive pills; they only act after successful fertilization. They are relatively way safer than the alternative. Extensive research and medical evidence ensure the low risk of toxicity or adverse effects. But still noteworthy that unprescribed and regular use of these compounds may lead to some kind of side effects. The more common and less harmful effect includes nausea, dizziness, and vomiting.

The most common type of drug that is used is mifepristone (also known as RU-486), a steroidal drug, and methotrexate which is an antimetabolite. Misoprostol, another drug that is very commonly used with methotrexate as a conjugate. It contracts the uterine walls leading to the expulsion of the embryo along with the placenta. 

Mifepristone acts by competing with the progesterone receptor at uterine linings, bind of the drug blocks the activity of the progesterone. Progesterone is responsible for the formation of corpus leuteum that helps in implication and sustaining the fertilization. Thus mifepristone terminates the pregnancy by blocking progesterone activity, which in turn results in unsuccessful implantation of the fertilized cell.

Abortifacient Drugs and Their Biochemical Description


Biochemical Drug Description


It is a drug that blocks the cortisol receptor, terminates pregnancy within 70 days.


Induces abortion during the second trimester of the gestation period


It is the analogue of prostaglandin E1, also used to treat NSAID- induced gastric ulcers.


It is an antioplastic compond.


It is a compound like a prostaglandin used to treat postpartum uterine haemorrhage


It is worked by dilation and softening of the cervical canal during the first trimester of pregnancy.

Drugs and Their Drug Target

This table explains the list of abortifacients drug target, drug target is the specific transporter, receptor, or another component of the cell that is blocked by the drug administration.



Target Type


Canalicular Multispecific Organic Anion Transporter 2



Multidrug Resistance-Associated Protein 1



a Subtype of Prostaglandin E2 Receptor Ep1 



Acts on Prostaglandin D2 Receptor 



Acts on P-Glycoprotein 1



Acts on Estrogen Receptor Alpha



Acts on Prostaglandin E2 Receptor


Dinoprost Tromethamine

Acts on Solute Organic Transporter


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FAQs on Abortifacient

Q1. State Some Common Examples of the Natural Abortifacient.

Ans- List of abortifacients includes tansy abortifacient and, mugwort abortifacient, these are the most commonly used herbal abortifacients.

Q2. State the Abortifacient Definition.

Ans- According to the abortifacient definition, these are the compounds that can induce abortion.

Q3. List the Most Common Abortifacient Drugs.

Ans- Methotrexate, mifepristone and misoprostol are the most common drugs used to terminate a pregnancy within 28 weeks gestation period. 

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