Emergency contraception (also known as EC or the morning after pill) works to prevent pregnancy in the case of unprotected intercourse. For maximum effectiveness, EC should be taken as soon as possible after unprotected sex. However, EC may be taken within 72 hours (3 days) of unprotected intercourse.
Emergency contraception is taken by women to prevent pregnancy, although men may purchase the medication over the counter on behalf of their female sexual partners. Age restrictions currently vary based on the type of EC you buy. Plan B One-Step is available over-the-counter to any man or woman, regardless of age. Other single-dose generic versions of EC (My Way and Next Choice One Dose) and two-dose EC options (Next Choice and Levonorgestral) are available over the counter to men and women 17 or older.
You might consider using EC if:
Intercourse during your most fertile days can result in pregnancy up to 30% of the time. Using emergency contraception can reduce your chance of becoming pregnant by about 75 to 89%. If you are already pregnant, EC will not end your pregnancy.
EC is thought to work by preventing the egg from leaving the ovary or keeping the sperm from connecting with the egg. However, the exact mechanism is not known. Most research suggests that EC is effective before conception occurs.
There are a number of emergency contraception options on the market, some of which are available over the counter (without a doctor's prescription). For example, Hall Health Pharmacy carries Plan B One-Step.
No serious complications have been associated with EC. It is not indicated for women with a possible pregnancy, abnormal vaginal bleeding or an allergy to the ingredients in this medication. A pelvic exam and/or a pregnancy test may be done if you are concerned that you might be pregnant or have undiagnosed vaginal bleeding.
There is no evidence to suggest emergency contraception causes birth defects if emergency contraception fails or if you were already pregnant. Emergency contraception does not affect future pregnancies.
Certain drugs or herbal products (e.g., St. John's Wort) may decrease the effectiveness of EC.
EC is approved for sale through pharmacies without a prescription. Depending on the brand, there may or may not be age restrictions (see below).
Age restrictions are as follows:
To get any type of EC other than Plan B One-Step at a pharmacy, you will be asked to show proof that you are age 17 or over. Any government-issued ID is acceptable proof of age and it does not need to be a photo ID. Females under the age of 17 will need a prescription for EC from their doctor, except for Plan B One-Step, which is available to anyone, regardless of age, over the counter.
If you are unable to find EC on the shelves, you will need to ask the pharmacy staff for assistance.
The Hall Health Center Pharmacy has EC available, but is only open from Monday-Friday from 8am-5pm
If you have health insurance or Medicaid (medical coupon), it's very likely that at least one form of emergency contraception is covered by your plan without any out-of-pocket cost. However, insurance companies do not typically cover over-the-counter products, so you will need a prescription. To find out more, call your insurance company and inquire.
Hall Health's website offers information on the pill, progestin-only pills, Depo Provera, NuvaRing, the Patch, the IUD, Nexplanon and the diaphragm. You can also find information about when you need a Pap Test, HPV, chlamydia and genital herpes.
Bedsider.org provides information about many different birth control methods
The Emergency Contraception Website, operated by Yale University, acts as a clearinghouse for information on EC.
Planned Parenthood's website offers information on the effectiveness of different birth control methods
If you have any questions and are a UW student or established Hall Health patient, you may call one of our Consulting Nurses for further information.
Authored by: Hall Health Center Women's Health Clinic staff
Reviewed by: Hall Health Center Women's Health Clinic staff, January 2014