by Micole Allekotte, Health Fellow,
National Women's Law Center
What is emergency contraception?
Emergency contraception (EC) prevents pregnancy after unprotected sex or contraceptive failure. EC contains the same hormone found in many birth control pills (progestin), and it prevents pregnancy the exact same way as birth control pills do, mainly by preventing ovulation. It’s effective up to 72 hours after intercourse (possibly even longer, up to 120 hours after intercourse), but is most effective in the first 12-24 hours. EC cannot cause an abortion; if a fertilized egg is already implanted, EC will have no effect.
The original two-pill Plan B is being replaced with Plan B One-Step, which requires only one pill. Next Choice is a generic (cheaper!) version of the original two-pill Plan B. Many brands of regular birth control pills have also been declared safe and effective by the FDA for use as EC; for more information, visit http://ec.princeton.edu/questions/dose.html#dose.
How do I get it?
Men and women who are 17 or older can get EC without a prescription by asking anyone who works at the pharmacy (it doesn’t have to be a pharmacist!). In some states (AK, CA, HI, MA, ME, NH, NM, VT and WA) you can get EC without a prescription even if you are under 17.
Except in those states listed above, if you are younger than 17 you’ll need a prescription. Ask your doctor for a prescription for EC at your next appointment so you’ll have it before you need it. If you need a prescription now, go to http://ec.princeton.edu/about-our-directory.html and type in your zip code to find a local doctor who will prescribe EC or call Planned Parenthood at 1-800-230-PLAN.
If a pharmacy won’t fill your prescription for birth control, including EC, or if you are 17 or older and the pharmacy won’t give you EC without a prescription, call us at the National Women’s Law Center at 1-866-PILL-4-US or firstname.lastname@example.org. We can talk to you about the laws in your state and make sure that no one else is denied access. And don’t give up! If it’s been less than 120 hours since you had unprotected sex, visit http://ec.princeton.edu/get-ec-now.html to find a pharmacy in your area that has EC.
Do I have any other options for preventing pregnancy after sex?
Yes! Having a doctor insert an IUD within 5 days of sex prevents pregnancy and provides birth control until you get the IUD removed.
How can we make sure EC is available to everyone?
A year ago, a federal court ordered the FDA to reconsider whether EC should be available without a prescription to women of all ages, noting that there was “nearly uniform agreement among FDA scientific review staff that women of all ages could use Plan B without a prescription safely and effectively.” Sign a petition urging the FDA to stop dragging its feet and to make EC available over the counter to everyone!