Since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, several states have implemented bans or restrictions on the abortion pill. These efforts are detrimental to public health, but it’s important to know that they have no effect on the legality of emergency contraceptives or birth control methods, both of which remain legal in all 50 states.

While most adults are aware that emergency contraceptive pills—also known as the morning-after pill or Plan B—aren’t the same as the abortion pill, there is widespread confusion around whether emergency contraceptives can end a pregnancy and whether they are still legal.

In a recent KFF Health Tracking Poll, more than 70 percent of adults who have heard of Plan B incorrectly said that it can end a pregnancy in its early stages. More than half of women who live in states where abortion is banned did not know that Plan B is legal in their state. These misconceptions can prevent women from seeking the reproductive health care they need and increase the chance of unintended pregnancies.

The difference between the birth control pill, Plan B, and the abortion pill

These three types of pills are not the same and are used for very different purposes. The birth control pill is a prescribed medication that keeps you from getting pregnant. Plan B is an emergency contraceptive that can reduce the chance of pregnancy after unprotected sex. The abortion pill is the only one among the three that can be used to end a pregnancy in its early stages.

How the birth control pill works and how to access it

The birth control pill is one of many birth control options available in the U.S. and one of the most effective ways to prevent getting pregnant if used correctly. The prescription medication works by stopping ovulation, which is when the ovaries release an egg for fertilization each month. If ovulation doesn’t happen, there’s no egg for sperm to fertilize, so pregnancy can’t happen. The birth control pill needs to be taken every day on the same schedule for it to work properly.

Along with many other birth control options, this oral medication is legal in all 50 states. You’ll need a prescription from a health care provider to access it, though there may soon be an over-the-counter option. If you have health insurance, it’s very likely that you’ll be able to get the prescription for free or at low cost. You can also go to a Planned Parenthood or local health center that provides free or low-cost birth control.

How Plan B works and how to access it

Just like the birth control pill, Plan B does not cause abortion. Instead, it is an emergency contraceptive pill that can be taken up to 72 hours after unprotected sex. Plan B works by stopping or delaying ovulation so that an egg and sperm never get the chance to meet in the first place. If ovulation has already happened, then Plan B will have no effect on preventing pregnancy, which is why it’s best to use it as soon as possible after unprotected sex. Although Plan B is a safe and effective form of emergency contraception, it is not meant to work as a regular birth control method. Instead, it’s a backup method when your plan A for contraception (such as condom use or correctly taking the birth control pill) fails.

Plan B is legal in all 50 states and available over the counter, which means you don’t need a prescription to get it. You can purchase it for $10 to $50 at your local drugstore or pharmacy, depending on whether you get a brand-name or generic version, though they all work the same. You can also call a nearby Planned Parenthood or local health department to see if they have free or low-cost options. If you want your health insurance or Medicaid to cover the cost, you’ll need to get a prescription from a nurse or doctor first. It’s a good idea to do this before you need Plan B so that you have it on hand and can take it as soon as possible if you do need it.

How the abortion pill works and how to access it

The abortion pill, also known as medication abortion, is a safe and effective way to end an early pregnancy. In the U.S., medication abortion typically consists of taking two medications: mifepristone followed by misoprostol. First, mifepristone stops the pregnancy from progressing, and then misoprostol works to empty the uterus by causing cramping and bleeding. One of the key benefits of the abortion pill is that it can be taken in the comfort and privacy of one’s home.

The abortion pill is approved by the FDA for use within the first 10 weeks of pregnancy, but it can be safely taken up to 12 weeks of pregnancy, according to the World Health Organization. To access the medications, patients need to get a prescription from a certified health care provider, which can sometimes be done through telehealth services. 

The reality of getting the abortion pill is much more complicated for many Americans since it is currently banned or restricted in certain states. In the 14 states that have banned abortion so far, there are no providers who can prescribe the abortion pill. And in some states where abortion is legal, there are laws that make access more difficult, such as restricting the use of telehealth to obtain a prescription or limiting the provision of the abortion pill to doctors rather than any clinician. Regardless of which state someone lives in, people are still accessing abortion pills, often by mail.