STD Home > Myths: EC vs. Abortion

There are significant differences between the abortion pill and emergency contraception (EC). The abortion pill is used to terminate a pregnancy after it has begun; emergency contraception is used to help prevent a pregnancy from occurring. EC should be used within 120 hours after having unprotected sex, while the abortion pill is used to end a pregnancy that is less than seven weeks along.

Is EC the Same Thing as an Abortion?

No -- EC, or emergency contraception, is used to prevent pregnancy after unprotected sex or after a birth control failure. It is sometimes referred to as "the morning-after" pill. This term can be misleading, causing people to think EC is the same thing as an abortion. It is not. EC only prevents a pregnancy from occurring. It will not work if you are already pregnant.
 

What Is the Abortion Pill?

The abortion pill, mifepristone (Mifeprex®), is a medication given to end an early pregnancy. It provides an alternative to a surgical abortion procedure. The abortion pill is also sometimes called RU-486 or "medication abortion."
 

How Does the Abortion Pill Differ From EC?

The main difference is that EC works before a pregnancy occurs, while Mifeprex works after a pregnancy has started. According to the standard medical definition, a pregnancy begins when a fertilized egg implants into the uterus (the endometrium).
 
Studies have shown that the primary action of EC pills is to delay or prevent ovulation (the maturation and release of eggs from the ovaries). They may also at times prevent fertilization from occurring or may alter the lining of the uterus, making it less likely that a fertilized egg will implant. EC will not work if a fertilized egg has already implanted.
 
Mifepristone works by blocking progesterone, a hormone needed for pregnancy to continue. When mifepristone is followed by another medication, misoprostol (Cytotec®), the uterus forces out the implanted egg, thus ending the pregnancy. Mifepristone is only used to end early pregnancies, meaning it has been 49 days (7 weeks) or less since the beginning of your last menstrual period.
 
Written by/reviewed by:
Last reviewed by: Kristi Monson, PharmD;
Last updated/reviewed:
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