What’s the Difference Between Birth Control, Plan B, and the Abortion Pill?

Taking care of your reproductive health is an incredibly important part of your overall health and well-being. One of the major factors concerning reproductive health for women is pregnancy. However, when it comes to pregnancy, there is a lot of different information to understand.

One of the most important things to comprehend is what birth control, Plan B, and the abortion pill are and how they differ from one another. This allows women to know what all of their different options are so they can make informed decisions for themselves and their bodies. In this article, we’ll look at the difference between Plan B, birth control, and the abortion pill.

What Is Birth Control?

Birth control—also known as contraception—is a method used to prevent pregnancy. There are several different types of birth control, including hormonal methods (such as the pill, patch, ring, shot, and implant), barrier methods (such as condoms and diaphragms), and long-acting methods (such as intrauterine devices [IUDs] and contraceptive injections). 

These methods work by either preventing the release of an egg from the ovary (hormonal methods), preventing fertilization (barrier methods), or preventing implantation of a fertilized egg (long-acting methods). Each method has its own effectiveness and potential side effects. 

Birth control pills are one of the most popular methods of contraception. In fact, around 25% of women between the ages of 15 and 44 who use contraception choose birth control pills. The most common birth control pills are hormonal pills that combine estrogen—to control menstrual bleeding—and progesterone—to prevent pregnancy.

Birth control pill effectiveness depends on how often they are taken, which is referred to as “typical” and “perfect” use. When women take their birth control pills consistently and correctly—meaning each day and as prescribed—there is less than a 1% chance of getting pregnant. However, when women engage in typical use of birth control pills—meaning they don’t take them consistently and correctly every single day—the chance of getting pregnant jumps up to nearly 10%.

While this is one of the most common birth control options for women, there are still some side effects of birth control pills, including bleeding or spotting between periods, bloating, depression, acne, fatigue, vomiting, headaches, insomnia, mood swings, nausea, breast tenderness or pain, and more.

What Is Plan B?

Plan B, also known as the “morning-after pill” or “emergency contraception pills,” is a form of emergency contraception. It is intended to be taken after unprotected sex—or in the event of a contraceptive failure—to prevent pregnancy. It is similar to birth control pills in the sense that it is taken in order to prevent pregnancy, but the two medications work in different ways, are taken at different times, and are intended for different uses. 

Plan B works by preventing ovulation, or in some cases, by preventing fertilization. This is done using two different hormones—levonorgestrel (Plan B One-Step) or ulipristal acetate (ella). Plan B is available over the counter without a prescription, while ella requires a prescription. 

It is important to note that Plan B should be taken as soon as possible after unprotected sex or contraceptive failure, as its effectiveness decreases the longer it is taken after intercourse. When it is taken within 72 hours of having unprotected sex, it can reduce the risk of getting pregnant by 87%, and it is even more effective when taken within 24 hours.

Similar to birth control pills, there are some potential side effects of Plan B, including dizziness, fatigue, nausea, vomiting, lower abdominal pain or cramps, headaches, breast pain or tenderness, and bleeding or spotting between periods.

What Is the Abortion Pill?

The abortion pill—often confused with birth control pills and Plan B—is not considered contraception since it is used after you are already pregnant. Also known as a medication or medical abortion, the abortion pill is used to terminate a pregnancy. It is typically used within the first 10 weeks of pregnancy and works by blocking the hormones needed for pregnancy to continue. 

The abortion pill is a two-step process, involving the administration of two different medications: mifepristone and misoprostol. Mifepristone blocks the hormone progesterone, which is necessary for the pregnancy to continue. Misoprostol causes the uterus to contract and expel the pregnancy. Mifepristone is taken first, and misoprostol is taken hours or days later. 

Some of the abortion pill side effects and symptoms include vaginal bleeding, cramping, nausea, headaches, diarrhea, fever, chills, and vomiting. It’s also recommended that you schedule a follow-up visit with your healthcare provider one week after starting your medication abortion. This is to ensure that the abortion is complete and that your body is healing properly.

In conclusion, the main differences between birth control pills, Plan B, and the abortion pill are when they are taken, which medications they involve, and whether they prevent pregnancy or abort a pregnancy. Birth control pills are taken each day (so before sexual activity), while Plan B is taken after unprotected sex or contraception failure. The abortion pill is taken after you’ve confirmed you are pregnant in order to end your pregnancy. Before choosing to use any of these medications, you should consult your healthcare provider to determine the best course of action.

At MyAlly Health, we understand the important role that access to contraception and other services plays in reproductive health. We offer many services to help you stay healthy and live the life you want to, including regular contraception options (birth control pills, and other options), emergency contraception (Plan B), and pregnancy testing. Emergency contraception pills cost an average of $45 at MyAlly Health, but depending on your situation, this method may be free or low-cost for you, so ask about our sliding fee scale. 

Additionally, we offer annual examinations, like physicals, wellness examinations, and mental health screenings to promote your overall health. You can also receive examinations like Pap smears to test for cervical cancer, and Gardasil vaccinations to protect you from HPV infections.

MyAlly Health offers confidential reproductive health services to women and men in the Grand Forks, North Dakota area, regardless of income or age. This includes preventive care, like getting tested for STIs, breast examinations, and pelvic examinations; determining the best birth control for you; and even getting vaccinated against the flu. The clinical services we provide are all performed by Nurse Practitioners and Resident Physicians. 

In order to empower and engage individuals in their well-being and reproductive health, MyAlly Health offers education, counseling, advocacy, and healthcare services. Find out more about what we do, help make a difference by donating to our cause, or schedule an appointment with us today!