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What are the differences between the morning-after pill and the abortion pill? An easier question would be to ask what they have in common, as they serve wildly different purposes. Let's examine that!

What exactly are the differences between the morning-after pill and the so-called abortion pill, which pharmacologically ends a pregnancy? The misconception that the morning-after pill is able to terminate a pregnancy, when defined as starting at fertilization, is at the heart of this question. 

To explain the differences, we'll take a deeper look at emergency contraception as well as the abortion pill. 

What Is The Morning-After Pill?

So-called morning-after pills are a type of emergency contraception that can be used up to 120 hours after unprotected sex, depending on the kind of pill, to significantly reduce the risk of pregnancy. Two kinds of morning-after pills are available on the US market:

  • A pill with ulipristal acetate. The one brand available in the US is called ella — like that, all lower-case letters. This is a prescription-only morning-after pill that is as effective up to five days after as it is a few hours after unprotected intercourse, unless you've also taken regular birth control pills, or the contraceptive patch or ring, recently. 
  • A pill with the synthetic hormone levonorgestrel. In this case, you've got many choices — Plan B One Step, Next Choice One Dose, AfterPill, Norlevo, Levonelle, and quite a few others. These may be taken either as a one-dose pill or in two stages, one pill 12 hours after the first.  The advantage of these pills is that they don't require a prescription. They are, however, less effective the later after unprotected intercourse you take them. [1, 2]

Both of these kinds of morning-after pill mainly work to prevent pregnancy by delaying ovulation, with pills containing ulipristal acetate being more effective if they are taken close to ovulation than levonorgestrel pills. While it's additionally theorized that morning-after pills alter the cervical mucus in such a way as to make in inhospitable to sperm and that they interfere with fertilization directly, there's currently no conclusive scientific evidence in this direction. [3]

The morning-after pill greatly reduces the risk of unwanted pregnancy. It does not, contrary to popular belief [4] end an already existing pregnancy. Morning-after pills don't, in short, induce abortions [5]. 

So, how effective is the morning after pill? Let's see:

  • Morning-after pills containing levonorgestrel reduce your risk of pregnancy by 88 percent, or 95 percent if taken within the first 24 hours after unprotected sex. [6]
  • Data from a difference source reveals that ulipristal acetate (ella) is 98.7 percent effective. [7]

The Copper Coil: A Little Talked-About Alternative Form Of Emergency Contraception

Almost everyone reading this piece will already have heard about the morning-after pill — it's widely talked about in the West and beyond these days. Fewer women will be aware that the copper intrauterine device (IUD), sold under the brand name ParaGard in the US, can also be used as emergency contraception. This option may be suitable for you if you want long-term contraception (up to 10 years, in fact!) and emergency contraception in one go. 

Copper IUDs, too, can be inserted up to five days after unprotected sex to prevent pregnancy. In this case, their mechanism of action is still poorly understood, though it is clear that copper IUDs are very effective at preventing pregnancy. The copper component is believed to have a spermicidal effect, though it is possible (but unproven) that copper IUDs additionally prevent the implantation of an already fertilized egg. If this is something you are not ethically, philosophically, or religiously comfortable with, the ParaGard IUD is not for you. 

Should it appeal to you, however, you will want to know that the copper IUD is 99.91 percent effective as an emergency contraceptive. Yes, more effective than any other option! [8]

The Abortion Pill

"The abortion pill", as it's commonly referred to, is actually a set of several medications, all of which are crucial to the process:

  • Mifepristone (RU-486), which interferes with the production of progesterone, a hormone crucial to continued pregnancy. You take this at the doctor's office. 
  • Misoprostol, a medication that is also used for the induction of labor, causes the uterus to contract and expel its contents. This is taken between six and 72 hours afterward. 
  • Antibiotics need to be taken to prevent infection. [9]

The so-called abortion pill can be taken up to the ninth week of pregnancy, and allows you to complete the termination of your pregnancy in the comfort of your own home. Despite these advantages, research shows that medical abortion tends to lead to more pain and bleeding than surgical abortion. [10]

Differences Between The Morning-After Pill And The Abortion Pill

The morning-after pill is used to prevent an unwanted pregnancy, while the abortion pill is used to end one. This simple sentence sums up the difference between the morning-after pill and the abortion pill. The facts that they are both pills and that they both have the aim of not being pregnant (anymore) are just about the only things these two have in common.