Abortifacient: Understanding the Meaning and Types

Abortifacient: Understanding the Meaning and Types
Posted on 07-06-2023

"Abortifacient: Understanding the Meaning and Types"


The term "abortifacient" refers to substances, both chemical and natural, that can induce abortion by causing the expulsion of an embryo from the body. Abortion involves the termination of a pregnancy before or within 28 weeks of gestation. Understanding the meaning of abortifacients encompasses the concept of abortion and the methods by which it can be induced. This article explores the significance of abortifacients, their historical context, different types, and associated risks and implications.

Meaning and Types of Abortifacients:

Abortifacients encompass various compounds used to induce abortion. These can be classified into two main categories: natural abortifacients and chemical abortifacients. Natural abortifacients refer to botanical compounds or plant extracts that have been traditionally used to induce abortion. On the other hand, chemical abortifacients are drugs specifically designed to terminate pregnancies.

Historical Context:

The use of abortifacients has a long history dating back to ancient civilizations. Carl Linnaeus, a renowned botanist, documented several medicinal plants with abortifacient properties in his book "Materia Medica." However, the reinforcement of regulations against abortion, particularly by the Catholic Church in the 1830s, led to the illegality of abortion and medical termination of pregnancy. Today, abortion remains a controversial and politically charged topic, resulting in a significant number of illegal abortions and associated health risks.

Natural Abortifacients:

Natural abortifacients are botanical compounds or plant extracts that have the potential to induce abortion. While scientific information regarding their mechanisms of action and safety is limited, studies have shown potential risks associated with their ingestion. Research conducted by the toxicological department of Uruguay highlighted the high risk of morbidity and mortality associated with herbal abortifacients. Symptoms such as abdominal pain, vomiting, genital hemorrhage, anemia, jaundice, and more severe complications like multiple organ system failures can occur.

Some commonly used natural abortifacients include Ruta chalepensis, Lycopodium Saururus, Petroselinum hortense, Mentha pulegium, Margiricarpus pinnatus, Origanum vulgare, and others. However, it is important to note that there is insufficient medical evidence to support their safety and effectiveness for pregnancy termination.

Chemical Abortifacients:

Chemical abortifacients refer to drugs or chemical compounds used for medical pregnancy termination. Unlike contraceptive pills, these medications act after successful fertilization. The two most commonly used drugs are mifepristone (RU-486) and methotrexate, often combined with misoprostol. Mifepristone competes with progesterone receptors in the uterine lining, blocking progesterone activity and preventing successful implantation of the fertilized egg. Methotrexate, an antimetabolite, is used in conjunction with misoprostol to contract the uterine walls, leading to embryo and placental expulsion.

Chemical abortifacients have undergone extensive research and have a lower risk of toxicity or adverse effects compared to natural abortifacients. However, regular and unprescribed use can still lead to side effects such as nausea, dizziness, and vomiting.


Understanding the meaning of abortifacients involves recognizing their role in inducing abortion and the associated risks. Abortifacients can be categorized as natural abortifacients, derived from botanical compounds, and chemical abortifacients, which include drugs specifically designed for pregnancy termination. While natural abortifacients pose significant health risks and lack scientific evidence for safety and effectiveness, chemical abortifacients have been extensively researched and offer a lower risk profile. It is essential to approach the subject of abortifacients with sensitivity and awareness of the legal, political, and religious implications surrounding abortion.


Abortifacient Drugs and Their Biochemical Description

Abortifacient drugs are substances specifically designed to induce abortion by terminating a pregnancy. These drugs act on various biochemical processes in the body to disrupt the development and maintenance of the pregnancy. It is important to note that the use of abortifacient drugs should always be under the supervision and guidance of healthcare professionals, as they carry potential risks and should only be used in appropriate circumstances and legal frameworks.

There are several commonly used abortifacient drugs, each with its own biochemical description and mode of action. It is crucial to understand that the following information is for educational purposes only and should not be considered as medical advice. Consult a healthcare professional for accurate and personalized information.

  1. Mifepristone (RU-486): Mifepristone is a steroidal compound that acts as an antagonist to the hormone progesterone. Progesterone plays a vital role in maintaining the uterine lining and supporting the growth and development of the embryo. By blocking the progesterone receptor, mifepristone prevents the progesterone from exerting its effects, leading to the breakdown of the uterine lining and detachment of the implanted embryo.

  2. Methotrexate: Methotrexate is an antimetabolite drug that interferes with the metabolism of cells, particularly those that rapidly divide. It inhibits the activity of an enzyme called dihydrofolate reductase, which is necessary for the synthesis of DNA and RNA. By disrupting these processes, methotrexate affects the growth of the embryo and promotes the shedding of the uterine lining.

  3. Misoprostol: Misoprostol is a synthetic prostaglandin E1 analogue. Prostaglandins are naturally occurring compounds that play a role in various physiological processes, including uterine contractions. Misoprostol acts by binding to specific receptors in the uterus, leading to increased uterine contractions. These contractions help expel the embryo and placental tissues from the uterus.

  4. Combination of Mifepristone and Misoprostol: In some cases, a combination of mifepristone and misoprostol may be used for medical abortion. Mifepristone is administered first to block progesterone receptors and prepare the uterus for expulsion. Then, misoprostol is given to induce uterine contractions and complete the process of abortion.

It is important to note that the use of abortifacient drugs should always be done under medical supervision, and the specific regimen and dosage may vary depending on individual circumstances and regional regulations. These drugs may have potential side effects and risks, and their use should be discussed with healthcare professionals who can provide appropriate guidance and support.


Drugs and Their Drug Target

There are various abortifacient drugs that are used to induce abortion, and each drug acts on specific drug targets within the body. Here are some commonly used abortifacient drugs and their corresponding drug targets:

Mifepristone (RU-486):

Drug Target: Progesterone Receptor

Mifepristone acts as a competitive antagonist to the progesterone receptor. By binding to the progesterone receptor and blocking the action of progesterone, it interferes with the maintenance of the uterine lining and disrupts the pregnancy.



Drug Target: Dihydrofolate Reductase (DHFR)

Methotrexate inhibits the activity of dihydrofolate reductase, an enzyme that plays a crucial role in the synthesis of DNA and RNA. By blocking this enzyme, methotrexate interferes with cell division and proliferation, including the rapidly dividing cells of the developing embryo.



Drug Target: Prostaglandin E1 (PGE1) Receptors

Misoprostol is a synthetic prostaglandin E1 analogue that binds to specific receptors, known as PGE1 receptors, in the uterus. By activating these receptors, misoprostol promotes uterine contractions, leading to the expulsion of the embryo and the shedding of the uterine lining.


Combined Use of Mifepristone and Misoprostol:

In some cases, a combination of mifepristone and misoprostol may be used for medical abortion. Mifepristone's drug target is the progesterone receptor, as mentioned above. Misoprostol's drug target is the prostaglandin E1 (PGE1) receptors, as mentioned above. The combined action of these drugs helps to effectively terminate the pregnancy by blocking progesterone activity and inducing uterine contractions.

It is essential to note that these drugs should only be used under the supervision of healthcare professionals and in accordance with local laws and regulations. The specific drug targets and mechanisms of action may vary for different abortifacient drugs, and healthcare professionals can provide appropriate guidance on their safe and responsible use.

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