What is Emergency Contraception?
Emergency contraception (EC), popularly known as the Morning After Pill, is a birth control method women can use after unprotected sex or contraceptive failure to reduce the risk of getting pregnant. There are three forms of EC available:
•- Plan B One-Step
•- Next Choice (the generic form of Plan B
•- Oral contraceptive (birth control) pills (progestin-only or combined oral contraceptives)
EC can be safely used by adolescents, and by women who normally are not good candidates for using oral contraceptives as their primary means of birth control.
When to Use Emergency Contraception
EC might be used in situations where:
- no birth control was used during sex
- condom broke or slipped off during sex
- diaphragm, cervical cap, or shield moved out of place during sex
- woman forgot to use her usual birth control method (i.e. did not take a pill, insert a Nuvaring, or apply a birth control patch)
- woman is coerced into having unprotected sex
How Emergency Contraception Works
Emergency contraception gives the body synthetic hormones which disrupt the pattern of bodily hormones necessary for pregnancy to occur. Depending on the point a woman is at in her menstrual cycle, some of the ways EC can prevent pregnancy are: prevents ovulation (where the egg moves into the fallopian tubes from the ovaries); blocks hormones necessary for fertilization; prevents sperm from meeting the egg.
How to Take Emergency Contraception
The sooner EC is used after sex, the greater the chances of preventing pregnancy.
Although EC is said to be effective up to 120 hours (5 days) after intercourse, it is best to take it within the first 24 hours (i.e. the morning after). Women using Plan B One-Step take only one pill; with Next Choice two pills are taken
Emergency Contraception Success and Availability
The success of emergency contraception is influenced by how much time elapsed since having sex and the point in a woman's menstrual cycle when sex occurred. Using EC, the risk of getting pregnant is reduced by 75-90%. Note that EC does not protect against reproductive tract infections or sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), including HIV/AIDS.
Plan B can be obtained over the counter at most pharmacies; however individuals under the age of 17 usually require a prescription.
Dispelling Emergency Contraception Myths
Emergency contraception is not the same thing as an abortion, nor is Plan B One-Step the same as the abortion pill, RU486. Scientists and medical research have conclusively determined that EC does not end or affect an existing pregnancy.
Women should note, however, that EC does not prevent future pregnancies, and that it is less effective than other birth control methods and should not be used as a substitute.