PSA: Emergency Birth Control and Abortion Pills Are Not the Same Thing

Time to debunk this common misconception.

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There has been a lot of public confusion surrounding emergency contraceptives and abortion pills. Because of misinformation, many people think they are the same. They’re not.

Emergency contraception significantly reduces the risk of an unwanted pregnancy before it happens, much like routine birth control. (However, emergency birth control shouldn’t be used in place of a routine birth control method as it’s more expensive and comes with more side effects.)

“Emergency birth control—which includes different kinds of pills and the copper IUD—helps prevent pregnancy for up to five days after unprotected sex,” says Kecia Gaither, MD, director of perinatal services at Lincoln Medical and Mental Health Center. “Emergency contraception will not work if you’re already pregnant—it can only stop ovulation. If you take these pills after a fertilized egg has implanted in the uterine wall, the medication just won't work.”

Emergency contraceptives are available over-the-counter and by prescription. Learn more about emergency birth control options here.

Medical abortion pills, on the other hand, end an existing pregnancy. Medical abortion pills can be taken—under supervision of a qualified medical professional—up to 70 days after the first day of the last menstrual period.

There are two medications taken during this process. The first ends pregnancy by blocking the hormones necessary for maintaining a pregnancy. It is then followed by another medicine that causes the uterus to contract and empty, completing the abortion.

“Medical abortion pills cause a fetus to stop developing. You couldn’t take enough EC pills to cause an abortion,” says Dr. Gaither.

To avoid unwanted pregnancies, it’s recommended to follow a routine birth control method, such as the Pill, the patch, the implant, or the IUD.