Emergency Contraception

Emergency contraception prevents pregnancy after unprotected intercourse.
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Emergency contraception is just that -- contraception. Emergency contraception cannot interrupt or disrupt an already-established pregnancy. Both oral contraceptive pills and the intrauterine device (IUD) can be used as emergency contraceptives. A copper IUD can be used for emergency contraception if it is inserted within five days following unprotected intercourse. This method provides up to 10 years of contraceptive protection. The advantages and drawbacks of using an IUD for emergency contraception are the same as those associated with using IUDs for ongoing contraception. Emergency contraceptive pills (also known as the "morning after pill") are the most commonly used method of emergency contraception. Emergency contraceptive pills simply are ordinary birth-control pills taken in higher doses. The first dose of pills must be taken within 72 hours after unprotected sex, and a second dose is taken 12 hours later. Emergency contraceptive pills are more effective the earlier the first dose is taken. Plan B™ and Preven™ are two brands of emergency contraceptive pills now available. Certain brands of ordinary birth-control pills also can be used in specific doses. Depending on the time in the menstrual cycle in which it is taken, emergency contraception may stop the release of an egg from a woman's ovary, interfere with fertilization, or prevent a fertilized egg from attaching to the uterus. How effective is emergency contraception in preventing pregnancy? Emergency contraceptive pills reduce the risk of pregnancy following unprotected intercourse by as much as 89%. Insertion of a copper IUD reduces the risk of pregnancy by more than 99%. No serious or long-term side effects are associated with using emergency contraceptive pills. Some women will experience short-term side effects such as nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, headache, dizziness, breast tenderness, and menstrual changes (heavier or lighter bleeding during your next period). Plan B™ (which contains progestin) causes fewer side effects than Preven™ (which contains both estrogen and progestin).


Emergency contraceptive pills require a prescription. To locate a health-care practitioner near you who provides emergency contraception, call the national emergency contraception hotline at 1-888-not-2-late. The hotline is operated by the Association for Reproductive Health Professionals.


Emergency contraceptive pills cost an average of $20. Some providers also require an office visit, which can cost from $35 to $150. Medicaid and some private health-insurance plans cover most or some of these costs. Many family-planning clinics provide services and supplies FREE or on a sliding scale, based on your income.

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From the National Family Planning and Reproductive Health Association Copyright 2003. All rights reserved.



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