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Emergency contraception

What is the difference between the ‘morning after pill’ and the abortion pill?

What is the difference between the ‘morning after pill’ and the abortion pill?

The ‘morning after pill’ is not the same as the 'abortion pill'. The main difference is that the morning after pill prevents a pregnancy, which is why it does not cause an abortion.

The ‘morning after pill’ is an emergency contraceptive. There is usually just one pill to take. The sooner you take the morning after pill, the greater the chances of avoiding pregnancy. A medical abortion (or “abortion pill” as it sometimes called) involves taking two different types of medicine - mifepristone and misoprostol - at different times, to end an existing pregnancy. Keep reading to know the difference between the ‘morning after pill’ and the abortion pill.

The ‘morning after pill’ is an emergency contraceptive: though often called the morning after pill, it can actually be taken up to 96 hours (5 days) after unprotected sex to prevent a pregnancy. It is a progesterone-only hormone pill and works by delaying the release of an egg from an ovary, therefore preventing pregnancy. There is usually just one pill to take. The sooner you take the morning after pill, the greater the chances of avoiding pregnancy.

A medical abortion (or “abortion pill” as it sometimes called) involves taking two different types of medicine - mifepristone and misoprostol - at different times, to end an existing pregnancy. At Marie Stopes UK you can use this method of abortion up to 9 weeks + 6 days of pregnancy.

The ‘morning after pill’ is an emergency contraceptive

There is usually just one pill to take.

The abortion pill ends a pregnancy

There are two different types of medicine to take at different times.

The Abortion Pill (Medical Abortion)

If you are pregnant and don't want to be, you can call us anytime to discuss your options. We provide free counselling services for anyone who would like to talk through their abortion options before booking their consultation appointment.

What is the “morning after pill”?

Using contraception when having sex is always the best way to prevent a pregnancy – you can choose from a range of long term and short term methods. If you've had unprotected sex or your contraception has failed (eg. you've missed taking a contraceptive pill or the condom split), emergency contraception can also prevent a pregnancy.

Emergency contraception is often referred to as the ‘morning-after pill’ but in fact it can be used within five days of having unprotected sex, and it works by preventing or delaying ovulation.

It is important to know that if the morning after pill is taken after ovulation it is unlikely to be effective.

Emergency contraception methods

There are 3 types of emergency contraception:

  • the emergency contraceptive pill Levonorgestrel (LNG), also known as Levonelle: it can be taken within 96 hours (four days) of unprotected sex, however it is most effective within the first 72 hours (three days).
  • the emergency contraceptive pill Ulipristal Acetate (UPA) also known as Ellaone: this can be taken within 120 hours (five days) of unprotected sex.
  • the intrauterine device (IUD or coil): this is the most effective emergency contraception and can be fitted up to 120 hours or 5 days after unprotected sex. A copper coil is a small, T-shaped copper device that is placed in a woman's womb and can provide contraceptive protection for up to ten years. One of the benefits of using the IUD is that, once fitted, you can then choose to continue to use it as your on-going form of contraception. Long-acting reversible contraceptive (LARC) methods offer excellent protection against pregnancy, ranging from three months up to ten years. They're ideal if you know that you do not want to have children for a while.

Read more about emergency contraception and IUD on the NHS website: Emergency contraception (morning after pill, IUD) - Your contraception guide.

What is the most effective form of emergency contraception method?

 

Because the morning after pill is unlikely to be effective when taken after ovulation, the most effective form of emergency contraception is the intrauterine device (IUD), also known as the coil.

The IUD can be inserted up to 5 days after unprotected sex, or up to 5 days after the earliest time you could have ovulated (released an egg), to prevent pregnancy.

Calculator: When did you have unprotected sex?

The type of emergency contraception you use will depend on your preference and the risk of falling pregnant. You can assess your risk of falling pregnant by using a simple calculator.

How the IUD works as emergency contraception

The intrauterine device (IUD) is a small, T-shaped plastic and copper device that's put into your womb (uterus) by a doctor or nurse. It releases copper to stop the egg implanting in your womb or being fertilised.

The IUD can be inserted up to 5 days after unprotected sex, or up to 5 days after the earliest time you could have ovulated (released an egg), to prevent pregnancy.

You can also choose to have the IUD left in as an ongoing method of contraception. The emergency IUD is the most effective method of emergency contraception – less than 1% of women who use the IUD get pregnant.

 

Where can I get emergency contraception? 

You can get emergency contraception for free from:

  • GPs
  • NHS walk-in centres
  • Brook services (for under 25s)
  • Sexual health clinics
  • Pharmacies
  • Some Hospital A&E Departments

Brook's emergency contraception

Brook provides free, confidential relationships and sexual health services for young people including contraception, STI testing and treatment, pregnancy testing and choices, counselling and online help and advice. For more information and to find your local service visit Brook's website.

Do I have to pay for the morning after pill?

If you're aged 16 or over, you can buy the emergency contraceptive pill from most pharmacies, in person or online. You need to be at least 16 years old to buy the morning after pill online. The cost varies, but it will be around £25 to £35. You will have to pay for the morning after pill if you choose to purchase online.

 

We recommend to being assess by a health professional before using emergency contraception.

 

If you want the morning after pill for future use

Some organisations may allow you to buy the morning after pill for future use. Check your options with your provider.

 

We do NOT provide emergency contraception

Marie Stopes UK does NOT provide emergency contraception. As part of your abortion treatment, we'll help you find a method of contraception that best suits your individual needs.

Emergency Contraception FAQs

Does the morning after pill normally delay your period?

It can delay your next period but does not always do so and sometimes your next period can be early.

Should you be worried if the morning after pill delays your period?

No, because it's normal. 

Why does the morning after pill sometimes delay your period?

Because ovulation can be delayed, therefore the period is also delayed

How long does the morning after pill typically delay your period?

Usually only a day or two but can be up to one week

If your period is later than seven days, does it mean you're pregnant?

No, not necessarily but you do need to do a pregnancy test

Is there any reason other than pregnancy that your period would be later than seven days?

There are many reasons. Some people have irregular cycles so it can be hard to predict when the next period is due but stress and weight loss can also affect the menstrual cycle. Other causes include menopause, polycystic ovaries, thyroid issues and diabetes

What should you do if you think you might be pregnant during lockdown?

It depends on what you want. If you want to continue with the pregnancy then you need to ring your GP to book in with a midwife. If you need help to consider your options you can ring Marie Stopes UK and book a telephone appointment with one of our counsellors. If you are sure that you want an abortion you can ring Marie Stopes UK and speak to the team who will book you into a telephone appointment to start the process. During Covid19 times as much of this will be done remotely as possible.