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Emergency Contraceptives vs Abortion Pills: the Difference

Modern world seems to be so developed and so clever. Informational technologies are used in all spheres of our life. Even kids can easily work with the computers; housewives operate with a great number of machines and devices. Our houses are nowadays crammed with machinery.

Furthermore, we are familiar with many scientific and difficult-to-understand notions; little kids know everything about the space, development of the world, sexual relationships, and so on. We seem to be so clever!

Looking deeper into the matter, one starts to understand that the formulation of this statement with the word “to seem” is the most correct, because there are so many everyday and understandable things, which, surprisingly, are misinterpreted or misunderstood by many people.

Contraception is one of the issues we live hundreds of years side by side with. It seems we should know everything about it. At the same time, many men and women even from the developed countries turn out not to know very simple things.

For example, doctors’ experience shows that their patients often fail to differentiate morning after pills from the abortion pills. Education seems to be needed concerning this topic, so let us explain in simple words the difference between these two notions.

1. Names

What we know as “morning-after pills” are called “emergency contraceptive pills” (ECPs) by the scientists and doctors. Here belongs such medication as Plan-B. Abortion pills can be referred to as “medical abortion” (Mifeprex, RU486).

2. Function

ECPs are used to prevent the occurrence of pregnancies, while abortion pills are a method of stopping the pregnancy, which already exists. In clever words it sounds as “an early option for non-surgical abortion or medical abortion”.

3. Active ingredients

ECPs consist of high doses of estrogen and progestin or progestin only. These are the same constituents used in daily oral contraceptives in smaller amounts. Main compounds in abortion pills are mifepristone and misoprostol (prostaglandin, used for other than abortion purposes as well).

4. Action

Morning-after pills work by delaying ovulation and preventing fertilization and implantation of the fertilized egg, thus helping a woman to avoid pregnancy. Actually, great doses of hormones trick the body and make it think the pregnancy already exists, so no more eggs are produced by the ovaries.

Abortion pills cause tearing away of the developing fetus and its elimination from the uterus. Mifepristone blocks the production of progesterone; as a result, placenta begins to shed and fetus dies. Prostaglandin, administered later, causes uterus to contract and expel the fetus. It may take from several days to several weeks for the abortion to be completed.


Emergency contraceptives are taken up to 72 hours after the unprotected intercourse (the sooner – the better).

Abortion pills are taken when a woman misses her periods and if she is sure she is pregnant. The pills are usually administered not later than on the 7th week of pregnancy (forty-nine days of gestation).

ECPs are taken as two tablets 12 hours apart. Abortion pills require three things to do: to take the initial dose of the pill, to administer prostaglandins two days later, and to make a follow-up visit to the doctor’s office to check whether the medication has worked.

6. Side effects

Common side effects of emergency contraception are nausea and vomiting, fluid retention, headache, spotting or bleeding. They disappear in two days though by themselves.

Common side effects of the medical abortion include abdominal pain, heavy bleeding for up to 16 days (sometimes for a month, sometimes less than 9 days – it depends on the particular organism), headache, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and heavy cramping. They are mostly provoked by misoprostol.

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7. Effectiveness

Effectiveness of the ECPs varies from 75% to 89%, depending greatly on when the pills were taken. Abortion pills are 92% effective, though some studies report that it is possible to talk about 99% of effectiveness. They are also said to be safe, though they are a comparatively new option for women. 

Yes, we seem to be clever; still, there is so much left for us to learn in the natural environment we live in and in the world we ourselves create. Similarly, women use abortion pills, but scientists keep on investigating them to discover possible long-term effects of the medication. We use emergency contraception, but it would be reasonable to work on improving their effectiveness.

“The more I know, the more I do not know” ancient philosopher was definitely right, so we should not boast and exaggerate our knowledge and skills.


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