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The Morning-After Pill: What It Is, How It Works, and Whether It Causes Abortion

by Susan Warhus, M.D.

abortion-and-the-pill-2.jpgQ. What is the morning-after pill? Is it the same as the abortion pill?


A.
The morning-after pill is a common name for a form of emergency contraception. It's intended for women who have had unprotected or inadequately protected sexual intercourse and want to prevent pregnancy.


HOW TO TAKE THE MORNING-AFTER PILL

Plan B is the only product marketed for emergency contraception in the United States. It consists of two doses of a certain type of progestin (a hormone). You take the first dose as soon as possible— preferably within three days of the unprotected sex but no later than five. Twelve hours later, you take the second dose.


HOW THE MORNING-AFTER PILL WORKS

We think Plan B works mainly by stopping or delaying ovulation. But it can also hinder sperm performance and deter implantation of a fertilized egg. (For more on the debate over whether preventing implantation is abortion, see this article.)

Plan B costs about $45 and is considered safe. It prevents up to 89 percent of pregnancies (when pregnancy is defined as beginning with implantation). It’s most effective if taken sooner. Side effects may include nausea, vomiting and irregular bleeding.

For women 18 and older, Plan B is available at many pharmacies and doesn’t require a prescription. Younger women need a prescription from their doctor, clinic or emergency room.

Once you’ve taken emergency contraception, you should use barrier contraception for the remainder of that cycle. After your next menstrual period, you can start birth control pills or another hormonal contraception.

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OTHER FORMS OF EMERGENCY CONTRACEPTION

An alternate emergency-contraception regimen consists of doses of conventional birth control pills, but this requires a prescription and knowledge of which pills to use and how to use them. In addition, certain women can get an emergency IUD implanted, which is more effective than either of the previously mentioned methods.


IS PLAN B THE ABORTION PILL?

Emergency contraception is not the same as the abortion pill (RU-486/Mifeprex). Emergency contraception will not harm a developing embryo that has already implanted. (It may, however, deter implantation. Some groups consider that abortion. This article covers that debate.)


After practicing medicine for about 18 years in the Phoenix area, board-certified ob-gyn
SUSAN WARHUS, M.D., now devotes her time to teaching and writing. Most recently, she authored Fertility Demystified. Dr. Warhus is also on our editorial board.

Last updated and/or approved: March 2010. Original article appeared in January/February 2008 former print magazine. Bio current as of February 2008. This article is not meant as individual advice. Please see our disclaimer.


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