The Facts Matter – Essential Medication in Reproductive Care

Posted by Kristen Feldman
Mar 17, 2023

Over the past year, medication abortion has frequently been in the news, and so has emergency contraception (EC). Many people—including some health care providers—are confused about these medications. So, let’s add clarity to the conversation from an OB/GYN perspective, because emergency contraception and medication abortion are not the same thing.

Emergency contraception prevents a pregnancy by delaying or preventing the release of an egg from the ovary (ovulation), like other types of contraception. It must be used soon after sex to be most effective. Emergency contraception will not work if someone is already pregnant. Common situations in which EC could be used include forgetting to take several birth control pills in a row, having a condom break, or having unprotected sex.

Medication abortion is a pill or combination of pills that ends an existing pregnancy in the early stages.

Some of the confusion between these safe and effective medications occurs because both emergency contraception and medication abortion are available in pill form. Other than the form of the medication, they are not the same. Therefore, it’s important to reinforce both medications have different purposes and they do not act in the same way in the body – EC pills are used to prevent pregnancy before it starts, and medication abortion is used to end an early-stage pregnancy.

Emergency contraception is legal in all 50 states, just like other forms of contraception to prevent pregnancy. EC pills are also available over the counter in most pharmacies, meaning someone does not need a prescription from a health care provider to purchase it.

Since June 2022, medication abortion is now illegal in some states, and it always requires a prescription.

Here is more information about EC from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the nation’s leading organization of OB/GYNs.

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