Some experts predict new Texas abortion law will drive women to risky, unproven methods

WASHINGTON - While protesters against the anti-abortion law Texas Gov. Rick Perry signed Thursday adopted the coat hanger as their symbol, women attempting do-it-yourself abortions generally look to other methods.

The herbs pennyroyal and rue, beverage concoctions like coffee and lemon, the soft drink Malta, a pill available in cheap generic form and blows to the stomach are more popular methods among women seeking to induce abortions without medical supervision, according to studies.

Some experts say Texas women have been trying to end unwanted pregnancies on their own more often since the 2011 Texas sonogram law went into effect, and the newest anti-abortion law means more will try to cause an abortion without medical supervision, putting their health at risk.

Amy Hagstrom Miller said there is no question women will try to induce abortions more often because of the new law ratcheting up requirements for abortion clinics, banning abortion at 20 weeks and requiring physicians to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles.

"This law doesn't do anything to change the need for abortion, so you're still going to have the same amount of women in Texas facing unplanned pregnancy," said Hagstrom Miller, founder and chief executive officer of a network of abortion clinics with locations in five Texas cities.

Opponents say the new law will drive many abortion clinics out of business, making it harder for women to safely end an unwanted pregnancy. Supporters contend it protects women's health by raising standards.

Elizabeth Graham, director of Texas Right to Life, said claims of self-induced abortions are exaggerated and unfounded.

"I can't imagine why women would take the risk of this so-called self-aborting when abortion clinics in Texas will be held to a higher standard of care than ever before," Graham said.

Hagstrom Miller pointed to a study by the Texas Policy Evaluation Project.

The research group is studying the impact of the 2011 law requiring a mandatory sonogram and 24-hour waiting period before an abortion, as well as cutting family planning funding.

Last year, TPEP surveyed 318 women seeking abortion care in Texas, said Dr. Dan Grossman, an obstetrician and project researcher.

About 7 percent reported trying to take something to end their current pregnancies on their own, Grossman said. That figure was as high as 12 percent in some cities on the border between Texas and Mexico.

Grossman was clear about the effect he thought the new law would have on those statistics.

"It's very likely that the number that will try to self-induce will go up," he said.

In another study published in January 2011, less than 3 percent of women surveyed reported attempting do-it-yourself abortions in their entire lifetimes.

The study in the American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology gathered information from 9,493 patients seeking abortions at 95 U.S. facilities.Grossman has examined the issue previously as a researcher for a study published in 2010 in "Reproductive Health Matters."

The study found 4.6 percent of participating women who had ever been pregnant tried to bring about an abortion on their own.

The survey asked 1,425 women at clinics in San Francisco, Boston, New York City and McAllen, Texas, if they had ever tried to induce an abortion.

The women reported using a variety of herbs including pennyroyal and rue.

"There's not good data that any of these are really effective," Grossman said. "There's certainly a long tradition in some cultures of using herbs to induce abortion and maybe sometimes they work, and maybe sometimes they don't."

A physician with the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists warned against using herbs or medication without medical supervision.

Available over the counter, pennyroyal and rue both have dangers and toxicities, but since they're not overseen by the Food and Drug Administration, amounts and purity aren't assured, said Dr. Sherry Blumenthal, chairwoman of the group's Pennsylvania Section.

"These herbs are not considered safe to use in doses needed to induce abortion," Blumenthal said.

Pennyroyal and rue share the same properties as misoprostol: They cause uterine contractions, she said. Misoprostol is available over the counter in Mexico and reportedly sold in flea markets in border towns to women seeking to induce an abortion. It's available in cheap, generic form.

Misoprostol is used in tandem with RU-486 -- mifepristone -- for a medical abortion, Blumenthal said.

"When supervised by a physician, use of these drugs is safe," she said. "If heavy, dangerous bleeding occurs, the woman knows to call her physician or clinic, and will receive immediate care."

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