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Plan B vs. the Abortion Pill: Is There a Difference?

Are you afraid you might be pregnant? Maybe your period is late, your contraception failed, or you just had unprotected sex. Regardless of how it happened, now you’re worried about an unexpected pregnancy, and you aren’t sure what to do.

You may have heard about Plan B and the abortion pill, but you aren’t sure if there is a difference between the two kinds of pills — or if either of them could be an option for you to consider taking.

Read on to learn more about Plan B, the abortion pill, and glean clarity about the difference between them.

What Is Plan B?

Plan B One-Step is a brand name for levonorgestrel, a medication used to reduce the chance of becoming pregnant. You may have also heard it called “the morning-after pill” or “emergency contraception.” The terms are used interchangeably.

Plan B is available to purchase without a prescription or identification.

Why do women choose to take Plan B?

  • Women may choose to take Plan B within 72 hours after unprotected sex, failed contraception, or sexual assault if they want to reduce the risk of becoming pregnant.
  • Plan B is not intended for regular birth control use.
  • Do not take Plan B if you think you might be pregnant or have already had a positive pregnancy test.

How does Plan B work?

  • Plan B works to prevent pregnancy in one of three ways:
    1. Preventing ovulation
    2. Preventing fertilization
    3. Preventing a fertilized egg from implanting into the uterine lining
  • Plan B may prevent an unintended pregnancy up to 95% of the time if it’s taken within 24 hours.
  • Research suggests that Plan B may be less effective if your BMI (body mass index) is over 30.

What to expect if you take Plan B

After taking Plan B, women report experiencing:

  • Nausea/vomiting
  • Dizziness
  • Fatigue
  • Headache
  • Breast tenderness
  • Change in period flow and bleeding between periods
  • Lower abdominal pain or cramps

Are there risks to taking Plan B?

There are risks to taking Plan B, including:

  • Ectopic pregnancy risk

An ectopic pregnancy (pregnancy that implants outside of the uterus) is a life-threatening medical emergency. Taking Plan B when you unknowingly have an ectopic pregnancy is very serious.

Plan B does not cause an ectopic pregnancy, but it can mask the symptoms of an ectopic pregnancy if you mistake your pain for discomfort associated with taking Plan B.

If you take Plan B and experience pain that isn’t relieved with ibuprofen or Tylenol, seek medical care immediately.

  • Heavy or prolonged bleeding

Vaginal bleeding is normal after taking Plan B but if you are soaking a pad every two hours or passing large clots, see your healthcare provider.

  • Itching or rash

If your body has an allergic reaction to the ingredients in Plan B, you may experience itching or a rash.

What Is the Abortion Pill?

The abortion pill is different from Plan B; it consists of two medications used to perform a medical abortion.

When do women take the abortion pill?

  • A physician prescribes the abortion pill to women who choose to end a confirmed and viable pregnancy.
  • If a woman is eligible for a medical abortion, the abortion pill is given up to eleven weeks (77 days) from the first day of her last period.

How does the abortion pill work?

  • The abortion pill ends a pregnancy using two medications. The first medication, mifepristone, disrupts the pregnancy’s attachment to the uterine lining by blocking the progesterone hormone. The second medication, misoprostol, causes intense uterine cramping to expel the pregnancy from the uterus.
  • The abortion pill ends between 95.5% and 98.8% of pregnancies when taken before 63 days of gestation.
  • If you have only taken the first abortion medication and change your mind, you may still be able to continue your pregnancy through an abortion pill reversal process.

Are there side effects if I take the abortion pill?

Yes, taking the abortion pill produces side effects, which include:

  • Severe abdominal cramping
  • Heavy bleeding with clots
  • Visualizing the gestational sac or fetus
  • Nausea/vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Low-grade fever and/or chills
  • Headache

Are there risks to taking the abortion pill?

Some assume that the abortion pill must be easy and risk-free because it doesn’t involve an invasive surgery. But that’s an incorrect assumption. The abortion pill comes with risks, including:

  • Incomplete abortion:

The abortion pill can be ineffective, leaving you still pregnant or leaving behind pregnancy tissue. When this happens, women often need a follow-up surgical abortion.

  • Infection:

You can get an infection after taking the abortion pill. If you take the abortion pill and experience a fever over 101°, see a medical professional immediately.

So What Is the Difference Between Plan B and the Abortion Pill?

As you have discovered here, Plan B and the abortion pill are both medications, but they are very different.

An essential difference to note is that Plan B is taken to prevent pregnancy before it occurs and the abortion pill to end an unintended pregnancy that has already happened.

Get the Answers You Deserve

If you think you might be pregnant and you’re considering abortion, Corbella Clinic is here for you. You can count on us to walk with you step by step through one of life’s most challenging decisions.

At Corbella Clinic, we see you. Our licensed healthcare professionals compassionately listen to your unique concerns and answer your questions, so you have the facts you need to make confident decisions about your reproductive health. It’s vital that you feel safe when you visit, and you will never be pressured or judged for your choices.

We understand how important it is to be equipped and empowered so you can feel good about your pregnancy decision. So, our skilled team at Corbella Clinic offers no-cost medical services, including lab-quality pregnancy testing, limited pregnancy ultrasound, sexually transmitted infection (STI) testing and treatment, and education with options counseling.

For more information about Plan B, the abortion pill, or an unexpected pregnancy, contact Corbella Clinic today for your confidential appointment online. You can also call or text us.


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2021, June 28). Unintended Pregnancy. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Gatter, M., Cleland, K., & Nucatola, D. L. (2015). Efficacy and safety of medical abortion using mifepristone and buccal misoprostol through 63 days. Contraception, 91(4), 269–273.

Illinois Department of Public Health. (n.d.). What You Should Know About Emergency Contraception. Illinois Department of Public Health.

Mayo Clinic Staff. (2020, May 14). Medical abortion. Mayo Clinic.

Mayo Clinic Staff. (2020, June 19). Morning-after pill. Mayo Clinic.

Steele, B. J., & Layman, K. (2016). Ectopic Pregnancy After Plan B Emergency Contraceptive Use. The Journal of emergency medicine, 50(4), 663–666.

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