What is the Difference Between Plan B vs The Abortion Pill?

Woman holding a glass of water in one hand and a pill in the other hand

Many women assume that the abortion pill and Plan B (emergency contraception) are the same thing and that the terms are interchangeable. It is important to understand that emergency contraception pills are not abortion pills and should not be used as such. Read below as we compare Plan B vs the abortion pill so you can gain a better understanding of their differences.

Abortion Pills Defined

Woman holding a glass of water and a pill pack with two pills

Abortion pills, also known as medication or medical abortion, are a form of non-surgical abortion. They are used to terminate a pregnancy within the first ten weeks. The most common medication regimen in the United States involves the combination of two drugs: mifepristone and misoprostol. This is commonly considered a ‘medication abortion’.


This first medication, taken orally, works by blocking the hormone progesterone, which is necessary for getting nutrients to the baby so that it can continue to develop. By interfering with progesterone, mifepristone causes the lining of the uterus to thin and prevents the baby from developing further. 


Typically taken within a couple of days after mifepristone, misoprostol is usually administered orally or vaginally. This medication triggers uterine contractions, leading to the expulsion of the contents of the uterus, including the baby. This phase often includes bleeding, cramping, and other side effects. 

Plan B Defined

Plan B, often referred to as the “morning-after pill,” is an emergency contraceptive method used to prevent pregnancy after unprotected intercourse or contraceptive failure. It is not intended to terminate an existing pregnancy but works by inhibiting or delaying ovulation, preventing fertilization, or inhibiting implantation of a fertilized egg into the uterus.

Timing and Effectiveness 

Plan B is most effective when taken as soon as possible after unprotected intercourse, preferably within 72 hours (3 days). However, its efficacy decreases as time passes. It also is not 100% effective, and may not be very effective at all for women who weigh more than 160 pounds.


Plan B contains levonorgestrel, a synthetic hormone that works by preventing or delaying the release of an egg from the ovary. It also alters the uterine lining, making it less receptive to implantation.


In many countries, including the United States, Plan B is available over-the-counter without a prescription. In contrast, the abortion pills require a prescription to obtain. 

Understanding Plan B vs The Abortion Pill

Woman holding a pack of birth control pills

It’s crucial to understand that emergency contraception is not meant to be used as a regular form of birth control, and does not have abortifacient properties. Abortion pills are used to terminate a pregnancy, typically within the first ten weeks, under the guidance of a healthcare professional. Plan B, on the other hand, is an emergency contraceptive used to prevent pregnancy after unprotected intercourse or contraceptive failure. 

If you suspect that you are pregnant, it is important to have a confirmatory ultrasound performed before considering what your options are. Pregnancy centers offer pregnancy tests and ultrasounds free of charge and are good resources for learning about your options.

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