One of the most common misconceptions about the morning after pill is that it causes a ‘mini abortion’. In fact, in the same survey by the FPA, 50% of respondents either agreed with this statement, or weren’t sure (Emergency Contraception Survey, FPA, 2014). Let us clear up the confusion: this is completely false, and here’s why:
The morning after pill prevents pregnancy by delaying ovulation (the monthly-ish release of an egg from your ovaries).
When you ovulate, an egg leaves your ovary and travels down the fallopian tube towards your womb. While the egg is on her way out from the ovary, she may bump into a sperm in the fallopian tube who has swam to meet and fuse with her (this is called fertilisation). The fertilised egg then travels to the uterus, where it will implant itself in the uterine wall: this is the beginning of a pregnancy.
The morning after pill stops ovulation, so no egg is released, meaning all those sperm have nowhere to go and no pregnancy can occur.
This is similar to regular contraceptive pills, which also prevent ovulation. The morning after pill cannot remove a fertilised egg from the uterine wall, therefore no ‘mini abortion’ takes place.
No emergency contraceptive pill is 100% effective. Sperm can survive in the female body for up to five days, and if you ovulate before you take the morning after pill then fertilisation might take place. This is why it is advised that you take the morning after pill as soon as possible after sex, to minimise the chance of ovulating and giving the emergency contraception the best chance at success.
One last thing to remember about the morning after pill: if you have taken the MAP: this dose won’t protect you if you have unprotected sex again in the same cycle. You should therefore use a barrier method of contraception (like a condom) until your next period comes, even if you’re taking the regular contraceptive pill.