Abortion Pill or Birth Control

Although most elective abortions are performed for birth control, they are by no means contraceptive. Abortion involves ending the life of a developing human being through surgical or medical techniques.

Medical Abortion and Emergency Contraception Compared

You may have heard a lot about "abortion pills" or "morning-after pills." There are many important differences between these two regimens. Below is an overview of each.

Common name Morning-After Pill Abortion Pill
Your doctor may call it Emergency Contraceptive Pills (ECPs) Medical Abortion
Main chemicals used
(also known as)
High doses of estrogen/progestin pills (Plan B or oral contraceptives) Mifepristone (Mifeprex, RU486) and Misoprostol (prostaglandin)
When used Within 72-120 hours of unprotected intercourse 5-7 weeks into pregnancy (counted from the first day of your last period)
How it works ECPs work in the same way as other hormonal methods of birth control, by suppressing ovulation if it has not yet occurred. If fertilization has occurred, the drugs work by making the uterus inhospitable to the embryo, preventing implantation and causing the embryo to be expelled (aborted). The drug also interferes with the natural movement of the ovum. This chemical causes an abortion by interfering with the function of the placenta, starving the fetus to death. Prostaglandins, a chemical which causes uterine contractions, are then administered to expel the unborn child. This method of abortion takes place over the span of several days or sometimes weeks.
How effective is it Your risk of becoming pregnant during your most fertile days (halfway between two menstrual periods) is as high as high as 30%. Using the Emergency Contraception Pill decreases your chance of becoming pregnant by about 75%. A medical abortion is less effective than a surgical one. Up to 10% of women fail to abort and must have an additional surgical abortion to end the pregnancy or stop the bleeding.
What is involved A single dose, or two doses of pills taken 12 hours apart. Three visits to the clinician, including two visits where pills are given and a follow up visit two weeks later.
Health risks &
side effects
Common side effects are nausea and vomiting. Health risks include possible increased risk of ectopic (tubal) pregnancy. Common side effects include abdominal pain, bleeding, and gastrointestinal distress. The average woman having this type of abortion bleeds heavily for 9-16 days, but some women bled for up to 30 days. Because mifepristone is a newer method, long term health risks are not yet known.

Related Articles

Also recommended:

The following links are provided as an informational resource or counterpoint and are not necessarily endorsed by this site:

Go to next section [unplanned pregnancy]


The information provided on Contracept.org is designed to support, not replace, the relationship that exists between a patient/site visitor and his/her health professional. This information is solely for informational purposes and does not constitute the practice of medicine. We encourage all visitors to see a licensed physician or nutritionist if they have any concerns regarding health issues related to diet, personal image and any other topics discussed on this site. Neither the owners or employees of Contracept.org nor the author(s) of site content take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading this site. Always speak with your primary health care provider before engaging in any form of self treatment. Please see our Legal Statement for further information.