evidence-based information about mifepristone, methotrexate & misoprostol

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What is the difference between medication abortion and emergency contraception (also known as the “morning after pill”)?

Medication abortion and emergency contraception are different.

Emergency contraceptives are medications or devices that are used post-coitally (after sex) to reduce the risk of pregnancy. There are several different types of emergency contraception available worldwide, including:

  • Progestin-only emergency contraceptives pills (popular brand names include Plan B, NorLevo, and Postinor-2)
  • The post-coital insertion of the copper-T intrauterine device
  • Ulipristal acetate, a new pill-based emergency contraception (brand name ella or ellaOne)
  • The use of combined hormonal pills (the Yuzpe method)

Medical science defines the beginning of pregnancy as the implantation of a fertilized egg in the lining of a woman's uterus. Implantation begins five to seven days after fertilization (and is completed over the course of several days). Emergency contraceptives work before implantation. If a woman takes emergency contraception when she is already pregnant, emergency contraception will not interfere with the established pregnancy and therefore does not cause and abortion. More information on emergency contraception can be obtained through This site is available in English, French, Spanish, and Arabic. Additional information on emergency contraception is available from the International Consortium for Emergency Contraception.

Medication abortion works by terminating an existing pregnancy. Thus, medication abortion methods only work after fertilization and implantation have occurred.

In a small number of countries, including China, Russia, and Vietnam, low dose mifepristone is available for post-coital contraception. When taken in the five days after sex, 10mg of mifepristone is effective at preventing pregnancy. Thus the same medication at different doses can be used for two different purposes.

If you have questions about medication abortion, please visit our frequently asked questions section
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