Emergency Contraception at a Glance

Sometimes we make mistakes. That's why we have emergency contraception or the morning-after pill. Did you have sexual intercourse without using protection? Maybe you forgot to use your birth control correctly. Bottom line: did something happy that has left you feeling worried about becoming pregnant? If so, emergency contraception might be a good choice for you.

There are two kinds of emergency contraception. Both kinds of emergency contraception can be used up to five days after unprotected intercourse.

  • a pill, commonly called the morning-after pill. The brand names of the morning-after pill are ella, Next Choice, and Plan B One-Step.
  • ParaGard IUD insertion

One type of emergency contraception is made of one of the hormones made by a woman's body — progestin. Another type (ella) blocks the body's own progestin. Both types of emergency contraception work by keeping a woman's ovaries from releasing eggs. Pregnancy cannot happen if there is no egg to join with sperm.

You might have also heard that the morning-after pill causes an abortion. But that's not true. The morning-after pill is not the abortion pill. Emergency contraception is birth control, not abortion.

You need to use the morning-after pill to prevent pregnancy after each time you have unprotected intercourse. The morning-after pill will not prevent pregnancy for any unprotected intercourse you may have after taking the pills. If you do not have your period within three weeks after taking emergency contraception, you may want to consider taking a pregnancy test.

Plan B One-Step and Next Choice are available from drugstores and health centers without a prescription for women and men 17 and older. If you are interested in getting emergency contraception and are 17 or older, you can get it from your local drugstore. If you are younger than 17, you'll need to go to a health center or private health care provider for a prescription. Ella is not available over the counter at drugstores, but you can get it with a prescription.

It may be a good idea to keep some emergency contraception in your medicine cabinet or bedside table in case of an accident. Having the morning-after pill on hand will let you take it as soon as possible after unprotected intercourse, when it is most effective.

The cost of emergency contraception varies a great deal. It may cost anywhere from $10 to $70. If you are not 17 and need a prescription, the health center visit may cost up to $250, depending on where you live.