Morning-after pill and abortion pill involve hormonal action, but they are two different medications. Let us tell you the differences between morning-after pill and abortion pill.

There may be confusion about whether the morning-after pill, which is a type of emergency contraception, is a medication that triggers an abortion. Well, the morning-after pill and the abortion pill are completely different. It is true that both are taken orally, and they involve hormonal components that influence the reproductive system. Both can also cause side effects such as nausea, vomiting, and bleeding. Still, the two medications work in different ways. The main difference is that the morning-after pill works when a woman is not pregnant whereas the abortion pill is effective when she is expecting. Read on to know the differences between the morning-after pill and abortion pill.

What is the morning-after pill?

The morning-after pill is a form of emergency contraception used to reduce the risk of unwanted pregnancy after unprotected sex. It is a backup method of birth control, and not a replacement for conventional oral contraceptives, says gynaecologist and obstetrician Dr Monika Jani.

Morning-after pill vs abortion pill: Know the difference
The purposes of morning-after pill and abortion pill are not the same. Image courtesy: Adobe stock

What is an abortion pill?

The abortion pill is a medication used to terminate an early pregnancy, usually up to 12 weeks of gestation. It typically involves a two-drug combination — mifepristone and misoprostol, though sometimes misoprostol alone is used. Mifepristone blocks progesterone, a hormone necessary to sustain pregnancy, while misoprostol induces cramping and bleeding to expel the pregnancy from the uterus, explains the expert.

What are the differences between the morning-after pill and abortion pill?

In 2022, the US Food and Drug Administration had announced it would overhaul packaging labels for the morning-after pill, Plan B. At the time, it had said it would remove references on the contraception’s packaging that claim that the pill prevents a fertilised egg from implanting in the womb. The aim of the agency was to distinguish the morning-after pill from abortion pills, which terminate a pregnancy after a fertilised egg gets implanted in the lining of the uterus. The FDA clearly stated that taking the morning-after pill is not the same as an abortion.

Here are the differences:

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1. The ways they work

Morning-after pill works by delaying ovulation, preventing fertilisation, or preventing a fertilised egg from implanting in the uterus. It thickens cervical mucus and alters the uterine lining, says Dr Jani. In case of the abortion pill, mifepristone blocks progesterone, causing the uterine lining to break down, while misoprostol induces contractions and bleeding to expel the pregnancy. Basically, the morning-after pill will not work if a woman is already pregnant, which means it will have no effect on an existing pregnancy.

2. Types

Morning-after pill contains levonorgestrel (e.g., Plan B One-Step) or ulipristal acetate (e.g., Ella). Abortion pill typically is a combination of mifepristone and misoprostol, but sometimes misoprostol alone is used.

3. The way they are obtained

Morning-after pill is easily available over the counter in many places. To get an abortion pill, you would require a prescription. It is often dispensed through a doctor, says the expert.

4. Purpose

Morning-after pill’s purpose is to prevent pregnancy after unprotected sex or contraceptive failure while engaging in sexual activities. On the other hand, the purpose of the abortion pill is to end an existing early pregnancy.

5. The time they are used

Morning-after pill is taken as soon as possible after having unprotected sex, ideally within 72 hours. Abortion pill is administered after confirming pregnancy and gestational age. It usually involves taking mifepristone followed by misoprostol 24 to 48 hours later.

Morning-after pill and abortion pill
Morning-after pill and abortion pill may have similar side effects. Image courtesy: Adobe Stock

6. Side effects

The two can have similar side effects, including nausea and vomiting. But you can also experience fatigue, dizziness, headache, breast tenderness, heavier periods with cramps after taking morning-after pill. As for abortion pill, you can expect bleeding, diarrhea, fever, chills, and infection as some of its side effects.

The morning-after pill and the abortion pill are connected to pregnancy, and can have similar side effects, but they are used for different purposes and at different times.

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