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Someone asked us: Is Plan B an abortion pill? How do I know if I need the abortion pill vs. Plan B?

Medication abortion (also called the abortion pill) and emergency contraception (also called Plan B or the morning-after pill) are two very different medicines. The abortion pill ends a pregnancy — so you use it when you’re already pregnant. But emergency contraception can stop pregnancy from happening in the first place — so you use it soon after sex but before you get pregnant. 

If you had unprotected sex within the last 5 days and want to prevent pregnancy, you can use emergency contraception, like the morning-after pill. But emergency contraception will NOT work if you're already pregnant. If you're already pregnant and don't want to be, you may be able to use the abortion pill. 

Here’s the rundown:

The Abortion Pill (also called medication abortion): 

  • What does the abortion pill do? The abortion pill ends an early pregnancy.

  • How does the abortion pill work? The abortion pill is actually two medicines: the first medicine stops the pregnancy from growing. The second medicine causes cramping and bleeding that empties your uterus. The pregnancy tissue comes out through your vagina, like a really heavy period or an early miscarriage.

  • When can I take the abortion pill? Depending on where you live, you may be able to get the abortion pill up to 77 days (11 weeks) after the first day of your last period.

  • Where can I get the abortion pill? You can get the abortion pill from a doctor, nurse, abortion clinic, or some Planned Parenthood health centers.

  • What else do I need to know? Depending on where you live, it may be harder to get an appointment for the abortion pill. So if you think you need the abortion pill, talk with an abortion provider as soon as you can. But be careful to visit a real abortion provider and not a crisis pregnancy center.

Emergency Contraception (also called Plan B and the morning-after pill):

  • What does emergency contraception do? Emergency contraception is a type of birth control that prevents pregnancy after unprotected sex. There are 2 kinds of emergency contraception pills: over-the-counter pills like Plan B, and a prescription-only pill called ella

  • How does emergency contraception work? Pregnancy doesn’t happen right after sex — it actually takes a couple of days for a sperm and egg to meet and start the pregnancy process. Emergency contraception pills temporarily stop your ovary from releasing an egg, so sperm can’t meet the egg. But emergency contraception pills won’t work if you’ve already started ovulating — that’s why it’s important to act fast and take it as soon as possible.

  • When can I take emergency contraception? You can use emergency contraception up to 5 days after unprotected sex, but most types work best when you take it within 3 days after unprotected sex. The sooner you take it, the better.

  • Where can I get emergency contraception? You can get Plan B and other over-the-counter emergency contraception pills without a prescription at most drugstores, pharmacies, superstores, or online. Generic brands like Take Action, My Way, Option 2, Preventeza, My Choice, Aftera, and EContra usually cost less and work just as well. You can get a prescription for ella from your nurse or doctor, or online with rush shipping. You can get either type of pill from your local Planned Parenthood health center.

  • What else do I need to know? Certain types of emergency contraception may work better than others depending on different factors, like your weight.

    In general, ella is more effective than over-the-counter Plan B-type pills, but ella can be harder to get because you need a prescription. Emergency contraception is totally safe, but it’s not as effective as regular birth control (like the birth control pill, implant, or IUD).

    Our quiz can help you find out what type of emergency contraception is best for you, depending on your personal situation.

If you want more information about the abortion pill or emergency contraception, you can chat online or text "PPNOW" to 774636 (PPINFO) to speak with one of our live health educators — it’s totally free and totally confidential.

Learn more about emergency contraception and the abortion pill

Tags: emergency contraception, the morning-after pill, birth control, abortion pill, medication abortion, sexual health