Emergency contraception – or EC for short – is a form of birth control that is taken by a person with a uterus after they have unprotected sex. This means if you forgot to use a condom, had the condom slip or break, did not use a birth control method effectively or at all, or for whatever reason think you may not be protected against pregnancy, then EC is for you! EC is also sometimes called the “morning after pill” or Plan B. However, Plan B is only one brand of EC.
Here are some of the basics to know about emergency contraception. But before we begin, remember – EC only protects against pregnancy and does not protect against sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).
What is EC?
There are three types of EC -- Plan B or a generic version like Next Choice, Ella, and the Paraguard IUD. Plan B and Ella are both types of pills. Plan B and other generic types of EC can be purchased over the counter at the drug store without any age restrictions. You can only get Ella from your doctor. The Paraguard, or copper IUD, can also be used as emergency contraception if it is inserted up to 5 days after unprotected sex. If someone uses the Paraguard option, they can then continue using it as a birth control method for up to 12 years.
EC prevents a pregnancy from happening and does NOT cause an abortion. If someone is already pregnant, EC will not effect that pregnancy.
How Do You Use EC? Where Do You Get EC?
Plan B or Generic: If you have Plan B or a generic form of EC on hand, a person with a uterus should take it as soon as possible after unprotected sex. It is most effective the sooner you take it, but you must take it within three days. If you do not already have some, you can buy Plan B or a generic version at a pharmacy or drug store. Anyone can buy it, if they have a uterus or not.
Ella: You can only get Ella with a prescription from the doctor. If you do not have Ella on hand, visit a doctor, clinic, or health center. Ella is most effective the sooner you take it, up to 5 days. Once you have Ella, a person with a uterus should take it as soon as possible after unprotected sex.
Paraguard IUD: This method is effective up to 5 days after unprotected sex, but must be inserted by a doctor or health care provider. If you are interested in this method, call your doctor or a clinic near you. Make sure you let clinic staff know that you are looking for a Paraguard IUD and are using it for emergency contraception so they can get you an appointment as quickly as possible. Once it is inserted, you can continue using the Paraguard IUD as birth control for up to 12 years but you can always have it taken out sooner.
How Much Does It Cost?
EC, just like other forms of birth control, can be FREE! It is covered under insurance and there are programs like Family PACT to help if you do not have insurance or do not feel comfortable using your insurance for confidentiality reasons. However, if you are buying Plan B at a pharmacy without a prescription, it can cost around $50. If you are buying EC at the pharmacy, ask if they have a generic version. That should usually be less expensive, possibly as low as $15. Anyone can buy EC at the pharmacy. You can always ask for it the next time you are at the clinic so that you have it available for free.
Yes. Plan B and Ella may be less effective for people who are over a certain weight, 195 pounds for Ella and 165 pounds for Plan B. This does not mean someone over that weight can’t use it; it just means that it might not work quite as well. You can ask the doctor, health care provider, or pharmacist if you have more questions about this.
Because Plan B and Ella are most effective if taken as soon as possible, it is a good idea to have them on hand! The next time you visit the doctor, ask them for a prescription or some medication to take home. That way you can keep it on hand for when you need it and you can get it for FREE! Looking for a clinic near you? Check out our map!
Emergency contraception does not protect against STDs, only pregnancy. Using condoms every time you have sex will help protect against pregnancy AND STDs! Find free condoms near you!