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The abortion pill vs the morning-after pill: What's the difference?

Last Updated Aug 3, 2017 at 2:04 pm EDT

File photo of mifepristone.

On Thursday, the Ontario government announced the abortion pill would be free with a prescription as of Aug. 10. The drug Mifegymiso has been available in Canada since January and costs $300 to $450. It’s also free in New Brunswick and Manitoba.

Mifegymiso, an alternative to surgical abortion, is a combination of the drugs mifepristone and misoprostol.

The morning-after pill, meanwhile, is available without a prescription. It helps to prevent pregnancy and does not cause abortions.

Some morning-after pills, like Plan B, contain a type of synthetic hormone called levonorgestrel. Others that contain ulipristal acetate require a prescription.

Sarah Hobbs-Blyth, executive director of Planned Parenthood Toronto, spoke to CityNews about the differences between the two pills.

How is it different?

The morning-after pill (aka emergency contraception) helps prevent pregnancy.

The abortion pill (medicated abortion) ends pregnancy.

Who is it for?

“The morning-after pill is for people who have had unprotected sex and want to prevent pregnancy from occurring,” Hobbs-Blyth said.

“The abortion pill is for people who have determined they are pregnant, and are within nine weeks of pregnancy.”

When do you take it?

The morning-after pill is taken as soon as possible, within five days of unprotected sex.

The abortion pill requires taking two pills to terminate the pregnancy within the first nine weeks.

Where do you take it?

Both can be taken at home, though Mifegymiso must be obtained from a doctor.

“It’s really exciting … people can see a clinician and take care of this at home,” Hobbs-Blyth said.

Do you need a prescription?

The morning-after pill Plan B does not require a prescription.

Mifegymiso does require a prescription.

How much does it cost?

“The morning-after pill, at Planned Parenthood, is anywhere from $13 to $25. At pharmacies it would be more due to dispensing fees,” Hobbs-Blyth said.

Mifegymiso is free for people with OHIP coverage. The cost is “no longer a barrier for people in lower-income situations,” she added.

Can you buy it and keep it in your home for emergencies? That is, before you need it?

Yes, for Plan B.

No, for Mifegymiso. A doctor must have proof of a pregnancy before writing a prescription.

Abortion pill vs a surgical abortion

“There’s a few differences,” Hobbs-Blyth said.

“In a surgical abortion, you need to be at a clinic, or a hospital, or where the service is offered. Sometimes it requires multiple appointments. Mifegymiso means that you can go home and take care of it at home.

“The exciting thing about Mifegymiso compared to other medical abortions is that Mifegymiso works a lot quicker. The process can take 24 to 48 hours, compared to up to seven days.”

Previously for medical abortions, the pregnancy window was shorter — seven weeks compared to nine weeks.

After nine weeks, the option is a surgical abortion, and that is an option up to 22 and a half weeks into a pregnancy, Hobbs-Blyth said.