A contraceptive pill that you only take once a month. But there's a pretty big catch.

An after-sex pill that would only need to be taken once a month is scientifically possible.


Taking the pill – for most people – requires a bit of planning.

Setting a reminder on your phone. Setting a second reminder on your phone, if you’re the type of person (cough) to ignore the first reminder.

Making sure you carry the pill with you. Not forgetting to bring it with you on holidays.

And although it’s only a slight inconvenience (cue the obligatory remark: much less inconvenient than an unwanted pregnancy), researchers from New York and Sweden are arguing that that there needs to be a simpler solution.

Their answer? An after-sex pill that would only need to be taken once a month.

Researchers from US technology institute Gynuity, and the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm are arguing that drug companies should develop a type of pill that would be able to disrupt pregnancy after the egg and sperm and already joined. A pill like this would be able to abort an embryo up to four weeks. According to these academics, such a pill is scientifically possible.

It would basically be a version of the morning after pill, which women wouldn’t need to remember to take the next morning. The researchers wrote in the Journal of Family Planning and Reproductive Health Care:

A woman could potentially use a postfertilisation method on a planned schedule only once in each menstrual cycle, no matter how many prior coital acts she had had in that cycle.

If the drug were effective when administered after implantation of an embryo, timing would be flexible, and she might even be able to limit its use on average to a few times a year when her menstrual period was late.

Importantly, post-fertilisation methods would eliminate the conceptual and logistical challenge of needing to obtain and initiate contraception before having sex, which can be daunting for both women and men.

Millions of women around the world currently take some kind of oral contraceptive that uses hormones to stop the release an egg for fertilisation. But these extra hormones can have various side effects; everything from worsened skin and weight gain, to headaches and nausea.

For some, depending on other medications and family history of such conditions, the pill can increase the risk of blood clots and breast cancer. The pill and other existing hormonal contraceptives may also, in the long term, affect the lining of the womb – which reduces the chances of fertilised eggs implanting successfully in the future.

The academics involved in the proposal believe that the month-after pill would be popular because it wouldn’t carry these dangers and side effects, as well as being more convenient. They also argue that women wouldn’t even need to take the pill every month.  It would depend upon how much sex a woman was having, and if she missed a period.

In theory, a woman would only need to take the pill if her period was late.

Academics believe a month-after pill would be popular because it wouldn’t carry as many dangers and side effects, as well as being more convenient.

But the suggestion that a month-after pill should be developed has, unsurprisingly, been condemned by some. The line from campaigners who are pushing back against such a development is that this would be a ‘back door abortion’.


Norman Wells, of the Family Education Trust in the UK, told the Daily Mail that, “What these researchers are calling for is nothing less than the routine provision of an abortion pill to women. The licensing of this kind of drug would effectively introduce abortion on demand by the back door.”

“To call a drug a contraceptive when it is designed and intended to be used after intercourse and potentially after fertilisation is a complete misnomer,” Wells continued.  “There is no such thing as an ‘after-sex contraceptive pill’. It is a contradiction in terms.”

The researchers advocating for the month-after pill admit that they knew political controversy would surround their suggestion – and also know that there may be little chance of pharmaceutical companies making the decision to innovate in this area.

Dr Elizabeth Raymond, from Gynuity in the US said: “We need to stop extolling pre-fertilisation contraception as a good thing, because it implies that something that works after fertilisation is bad. We have to stop doing that.”

She continued, “To meet the challenges of our increasingly complicated world, women deserve all possible options for controlling and preserving their reproductive health and lives.”

Abortion is currently available to women in every state in Australia. In June, the abortion pill RU486 was added to the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, making abortions more accessible for young women, women living in poverty, and women living in rural areas.

For many women, the idea of a pill that only taken once a month – sounds a little bit like heaven. But the personal decision to take a pill that was effectively terminating a potential pregnancy rather than preventing it in the first place is a complex one.

While convenience and simplicity – plus getting rid of a bunch of painful and upsetting side effects – is desirable, is it worth it? Perhaps we all just need to suck it up, swallow the daily pill and stop trying to push the boundaries of contraceptives.



What do you think about the idea of a month-after pill? Do you think it would be convenient? Or do you think that disrupting an embryo before four weeks is an ‘abortion by any other name’?