What’s the difference between birth control, the morning after pill, and the abortion pill?

Find out how each option works and how and when to use them

You may have heard confusing things about the birth control pill, the morning after pill, and the abortion pill, whether in conversations with friends or even on the news. These medications are actually very different and serve different purposes, but many people get them mixed up or even mistakenly assume that they’re all the same thing.

Not to worry—Bedsider is on it. Here we present you with just the facts (plus a handy chart).

Are birth control pills, the morning after pill and the abortion pill all just different names for the same thing?

Not at all! These three types of pills are entirely different medicines. They work in different ways in the body and are used in different situations.

We’ve broken it down here with a handy head-to-head comparison. This little guide can help you keep these pills straight, figure out which pill matches your needs, and get all the details on when to take them, how to get them, and how they work.

Does the birth control pill or emergency contraception cause an abortion?

Nope. This might be the biggest misunderstanding out there about these types of pills. Both birth control pills and emergency contraception (“morning-after pills”) are used for preventing pregnancy, not ending a pregnancy.

What if I’m already pregnant? What happens if I take birth control pills or the morning-after pill?

Birth control pills and morning-after pills do not affect ongoing pregnancies—they don’t cause abortions and they don’t cause birth defects. If you are continuing the pregnancy, you can be reassured that accidentally taking birth control pills or emergency contraception won’t harm a developing fetus.

If you’re pregnant and you want to end the pregnancy, you can consider either the abortion pill or an abortion procedure both of which you can arrange with a provider. Check out AbortionFinder.org for help finding an abortion provider.

Will these pills affect my fertility long-term? Can I still have a baby in the future?

Having taken either birth control pills or morning-after pills in the past does not affect your ability to get pregnant and have kids in the future. Same with the abortion pill—it will end the current pregnancy, but future pregnancies won’t be affected.

Where can I get these pills? Do I have to see a provider?

Depends what you’re looking for! If you’re looking for the emergency contraception pill, you can buy the levonorgestrel kinds right off the shelf at regular pharmacies. If you want the birth control pill or the ullipristal emergency contraception pill (ella), you’ll need a prescription. You can either ask for a prescription during an in-person visit or get it delivered to your door with telemedicine.

For the abortion pill, most states require you to meet with a provider in person at a clinic, and you’ll usually need a follow up 1-2 weeks after you take the pills to make sure the abortion was successful. Telehealth abortion may also be available to you depending on your location.

Keep this quick guide at hand to keep your options straight and know that Bedsider’s always got you covered, for these and all of your trickiest questions!

Written by Colleen Denny, MD

Colleen Denny, MD, is the Director of Family Planning at NYU Langone Brooklyn, and a clinical associate professor with the NYU School of Medicine. She enjoys providing care for patients in all phases of life and is especially interested in issues related to contraception access, physician advocacy, and public health. Outside of work, she’s a biker, a dancer, and a bit of a crossword puzzle nerd.

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