The Difference Between Abortion and the Morning After Pill

Does the Morning After Pill Work in the Same Way as an Abortion?

When can you use the morning after pill and in which cases would you need to consider an abortion? Find out about the difference between emergency contraception and an abortion and where to get help

What is the Morning After Pill?

The morning after pill is a type of emergency contraception, also known as the ‘emergency contraceptive pill’.

The morning after pill comes in the form of a tablet, which women can take in order to prevent pregnancy, after having unprotected vaginal sex. It can also be taken if your usual method of contraception fails: for example, if the condom you’re using breaks, or if you’ve missed a pill.

There are two types of the morning after pill:

  • Levonelle – which has to be taken within 72 hours of having unprotected sex (three days)
  • ellaOne – which has to be taken within 120 hours (five days)

Both pills work by stopping or delaying ovulation in women. This means that they stop your monthly egg from being released so that it can’t be fertilised by a man’s sperm and you can’t get pregnant.

The sooner you take either type of morning after pill, the more effective it will be in preventing pregnancy.

What’s an Abortion?

An abortion is the termination of a pregnancy. It’s a medical procedure that’s carried out on pregnant women in order to prevent the birth of a child. This is different to a miscarriage, which is when a pregnancy ends due to natural causes.

There are two types of abortion:

  • medical – where you take a pill at up to 10 weeks or from between 10 to 24 weeks of pregnancy
  • surgical – which involves a minor operation, either by a gentle vacuum (up to 15 weeks) or what’s known as ‘dilatation and evacuation’ (between 15 and 24 weeks)

Who can have an abortion?

If you’re living in England, Scotland or Wales you are legally entitled to have an abortion paid for by the NHS. In Northern Ireland, ‘MSI Reproductive Choices UK’ is currently the only charity that provides abortion treatment. In the Republic of Ireland, abortions aren’t legal: many women choose to travel elsewhere in the UK to have an abortion.

You are entitled to have an abortion paid for you by the NHS at any age, even if you’re under 16 years old. You can also choose to pay to have an abortion carried out in a private clinic, without being referred by a doctor. You’ll be charged from about £350.

What are the risks?

Abortion is a very common procedure, which carries few risks to your health. It’s estimated that around 1 in 3 women will have an abortion during their lifetime. Having an abortion shouldn’t affect your chances of getting pregnant later in life.

What’s the Difference Between the Morning After Pill and an Abortion?

The morning after pill is emergency contraception that stops the egg inside your body from being fertilised. When taken correctly, the morning after pill prevent a pregnancy from taking place.

An abortion is a termination of an egg that’s already been fertilised. It’s a medical procedure that’s carried out during a pregnancy. An abortion is to prevent a baby from being born after you’ve already gotten pregnant.

In Which Cases Would you Use the Morning After Pill?

You can take the morning after pill up to 120 hours (five days) after having unprotected sex, if you wanted to prevent pregnancy.

When Would you Have an Abortion?

If you have missed the window for using a morning after pill and have become pregnant, you can opt for an abortion.

Legally, in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, you are only allowed to have an abortion until you are up to 24 weeks pregnant.

Abortions are not legal in the Republic of Ireland. Because of this, many women choose to travel to other parts of the UK to have it carried out.

The only one who can decide whether or not to have an abortion is you. You shouldn’t ever feel pressured or forced into considering one if you’re unsure.

If you’re considering having an abortion, it’s a good idea to talk to someone you trust first. If you don’t want to talk to someone you know, there are lots of experienced counselling agencies and charities to talk to, including:

The British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) on 03457 30 40 30 from inside the UK (+44 1789 508 211 for Republic of Ireland)

MSI Reproductive Choices UK on 0345 300 8090 or email them at [email protected]

‘Ask Brook’ by text or webchat at

All of these services are 100% confidential. None of the advisors of any charity will tell anyone you’ve contacted them, unless they think that you’re in serious danger.

How do I Organise Getting the Morning After Pill or Having an Abortion?

If you’ve had unprotected sex, and it’s been 120 hours (five days) or less, then you can take the morning after pill to prevent pregnancy.

You’ll be able to get a morning after pill for free from:

  • your local GP
  • most sexual health (GUM) clinics
  • most family planning centres
  • most NHS walk-in centres or A&E departments

If you’re over 16, you’ll also be get a morning after pill from most pharmacies or private health clinics.

If it’s been longer than 120 hours since you had unprotected sex, and you think you might be pregnant, take a test first to make sure. You can get a home testing kit relatively cheaply from any local pharmacy or supermarket. Otherwise, you can have the test done by a nurse or doctor from your GP surgery or a sexual health clinic.

If you’ve decided that you want to have an abortion, your GP, nurse, or sexual health practitioner will be able to refer you to a specialist for an appointment. In some parts of the UK, you can refer yourself directly to an abortion service without even going to see your GP.

Visit the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS), MSI Reproductive Choices UK, or the Brook website to find your nearest clinic.

After you’ve found somewhere that offers an abortion, and booked your appointment, someone at the clinic will talk you through the next steps. It’s a good idea to bring someone you feel comfortable with along to your appointment if you don’t want to travel back afterwards alone.

If you ever have any questions about your options, or your rights with regards to having an abortion in the UK, visit for more information.

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