Emergency Contraception

You can prevent pregnancy after intercourse by using Emergency Contraception (also known as the Morning After Pill). The most common is brand name “Plan B One Step.”

Plan B, Plan B One-Step, and Next Choice work by giving the body a short, high, burst of synthetic progestin hormones. This disrupts hormone patterns needed for pregnancy. Plan B affects the ovaries and the development of the uterine lining, making pregnancy less likely. Depending on where the woman is in her menstrual cycle, the hormones prevent pregnancy in different ways. They prevent ovulation (the egg leaving the ovary and moving into the fallopian tube). They block the hormones needed for the egg to be able to be fertilized. They may affect the lining of the uterus and thus alters sperm transport, which prevents sperm from reaching the egg to fertilize it.

Progestin hormone-containing pills may be effective up to 120 hours (5 days) after intercourse, but are most effective within the first 24 hours. People 17 and older can get these brands over-the-counter and do not need a prescription.

Ella is different type of post-sex contraception. It is a pill that contains 30 mg of ulipristal acetate, a progesterone receptor modulator. It is effective for up to 5 days after unprotected sex and requires a prescription.

Having a copper Intrauterine Device (IUD) inserted within one week of unprotected intercourse is another alternative to prevent pregnancy after sex. Getting an IUD requires a clinic visit and the cost, if not covered by insurance, is higher than the cost of pills. It is a useful option for a woman who does not want to get pregnant for a long time. Call your health provider for more information.

Emergency Contraception does not protect against reproductive tract infections, including HIV/AIDS.


Take the medication as directed on the package. Take it as soon as possible after unprotected intercourse. The sooner you take it the more effective it will be at preventing pregnancy.

If you vomit within a half hour, it might not work and you should take another dose. You may want to take it with some food and anti-nausea medication.

Regular prescription birth control pill also work for Emergency Contraception. See this chart to find out how many pills to take. If you, or a friend, have birth control pills on hand, then take them as soon as possible if they are listed. These pills are less effective and cause more nausea and vomiting than the brand names made for this purpose. It is important to take the pill as soon as possible after unprotected sex.

How Well Does It Work?

Emergency contraception pills are less effective than methods of birth control you use before sex such as condoms or birth control pills.  But if a woman has had sex without protection, emergency contraception significantly lowers her chances of getting pregnant.

After taking Emergency Contraception pills, your next menstrual period should begin within 2 to 3 weeks. If you don’t have a full, normal period within 3 to 4 weeks you might be pregnant and should have a pregnancy test.

Starting birth control after Emergency Contraception pills
You can start using birth control the same day you take EC.  If you are using the pill, patch or vaginal ring, their hormones can give you bleeding much like a normal period, even if you are pregnant. It’s a good idea to get a pregnancy test 2 to 4 weeks after using Plan B.

Emergency Contraception pills cannot prevent an ectopic pregnancy, which is when a fertilized egg attaches and grows outside the uterus. This can be very dangerous and requires immediate medical attention. Signs of ectopic pregnancy are: pain especially in the lower abdomen or shoulder, dizziness and nausea.

Side Effects

With Plan B and Next Choice, side effects are rare but can happen. They include nausea, vomiting, headaches, breast tenderness, dizziness, fluid retention, abdominal pain and irregular bleeding. If these symptoms don’t go away after 1 to 2 days, you should seek medical care.

Your Health

Emergency Contraception pills do not harm an established pregnancy. They act on the uterus and cannot prevent an ectopic pregnancy. An ectopic pregnancy occurs when a fertilized egg attaches and grows outside the uterus. This can be very dangerous and requires immediate medical attention. To protect your health, watch out for the danger signs listed below.

Danger Signs

Women who experience any of the following symptoms while taking EC should call the clinic immediately:

Abdominal pains (severe)
Chest pain or shortness of breath
Headaches (severe)
Eye problems, such as blurred vision
Severe leg or arm pain or numbness

Future Fertility

Emergency Contraception pills do not prevent future pregnancies and are less effective than other methods of birth control. If you want to prevent future pregnancies, male condoms and spermicide are easily available options. You can buy them over-the-counter and you don’t have to wait for the start of your next period.

Pregnancy and Breastfeeding

Studies have not been done on the effect of Emergency Contraception pills on pregnancy and breastfeeding. Birth control pills with the same chemical have been used for many years and have not caused problems. However, the amount of the hormone in some EC is more than the amount in a birth control pill. No problems have shown up in women who have gotten pregnant or breastfed while taking EC. EC will not end an existing pregnancy.


  • Can be used after intercourse.
  • Easily available if you are 17 or older.
  • Can get ahead of time.
  • Easy to use.


  • Does not protect against sexually transmitted infections, including HIV/AIDS.
  • Less effective than other birth control methods
  • Must be taken within 120 hours of unprotected vaginal intercourse.
  • Need prescription if you are under 17 years old.
  • Call ahead to make sure your local pharmacy has Emergency Contraception in stock. 
  • Please notify Legal Voice if a pharmacy denies you a prescription.

Plan Ahead

Keep Emergency Contraception Pills on hand just in case! Buy them in advance so you won’t have to make a trip to the pharmacy

More Info

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