When it comes to pregnancy prevention, there are a couple of different options that often get conflated or confused – especially the morning after pill and the abortion pill. However, they are not the same thing and there are some very important differences between these two types of medications.

In this blog post, we’ll break down the key differences between the morning after pill and the abortion pill in regards to how they work, when they are taken, and their intended outcomes.

Understanding these differences is crucial so that women can make informed choices about their pregnancy and options.

What is the Morning After Pill?

The morning after pill, also known as emergency contraception or by brand names like Plan B, Ella, or Next Choice(12), contains the hormone levonorgestrel or ulipristal acetate(1).

It is intended to prevent pregnancy after unprotected sex or birth control failure. The goal is to prevent an established pregnancy from occurring(3).

It works primarily by:

  • Preventing or delaying ovulation(5)
  • Preventing fertilization by stopping sperm from reaching the egg(6)
  • Preventing implantation of a fertilized egg

It does not terminate an existing pregnancy that has been implanted.

The morning after pill should be taken within 3-5 days (72-120 hours) of unprotected sex(10). The sooner it is taken, the better it works to disrupt the process before pregnancy occurs.

What is the Abortion Pill?

The abortion pill, also known as medication abortion, involves taking two medications – mifepristone and misoprostol(2).

It is intended to terminate an established pregnancy(4) usually up to 70 days (10 weeks) from the start of the last menstrual period(11).

It works by:

  • Blocking the pregnancy-sustaining hormone progesterone
  • Causing the pregnancy tissue to detach from the uterus(8)
  • Expelling the pregnancy from the uterus(9)

Other names for mifepristone include RU-486, Mifeprex, or Korly (13).

The two medications are typically taken 24-48 hours apart under medical supervision. 

Mifepristone blocks progesterone to stop the pregnancy from growing. Misoprostol then empties the uterus through contraction and bleeding.

The abortion pill causes a process similar to a miscarriage.

So what are the main differences between the Abortion Pill and the Morning After Pill?

The key differences between the morning after pill and the abortion pill when it comes to drug regimen, intended outcome, how they work, and recommended timeline for use:

The Morning After Pill vs The Abortion Pill:

  • Levonorgestrel or ulipristal acetate
  • Prevent established pregnancy
  • Delay/prevent ovulation, fertilization, implantation
  • Within 3-5 days of sex
  • Mifepristone + misoprostol
  • Terminate established pregnancy
  • Block progesterone, expel pregnancy
  • Up to 70 days from last period

Understanding the Differences

The morning after pill is for emergency contraception before pregnancy occurs while the abortion pill terminates a pregnancy after implantation.

While both can be used after unprotected sex, the morning after pill is intended to prevent fertilization or implantation while the abortion pill stops an existing pregnancy by detaching it from the uterus.

The morning after pill should not be used if you are already sure that you are pregnant. The abortion pill will not work if you are not yet pregnant.

If you have any uncertainty about whether you should take emergency contraception or have questions about having an abortion, please schedule an appointment with The Keim Centers today. We can help explain all the options so that you can make the right decision based on your specific circumstances.