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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 abortion pills) and emergency contraception (also called Plan B or the morning-after pill) are two very different medicines. Abortion pills end a pregnancy — so you use them 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 abortion pills. 

Here’s the rundown:

Abortion Pills (also called medication abortion): 

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

  • How do abortion pills work? The abortion pill is actually two pills: mifepristone and misoprostol. The first medicine — mifepristone — stops the pregnancy from growing. The second medicine — misoprostol — 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 abortion pills? You can use abortion pills up to 77 days (11 weeks) after the first day of your last period.

  • Where can I get abortion pills? Depending on what state you live in, you can get abortion pills from a doctor, nurse, abortion clinic, or some Planned Parenthood health centersIn some states you can do a video visit and have the abortion pills mailed to you.

  • What else do I need to know? Abortion laws vary by state. So if you think you need abortion pills, talk with an abortion provider as soon as you can. But be careful to visit a real abortion provider and not a crisis pregnancy centerYou can find an abortion provider at abortionfinder.org

    Lately, you may have heard a lot in the news about mifepristone, one of the two medicines used for medication abortion. Don't worry, it's available in states where abortion is legal. 

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

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