Two days ago I had sex with my boyfriend and the condom broke. I want to get the morning after pill, but do I need a prescription in order to use it? If I take the morning after pill, am I having an abortion?
Emergency contraception, also commonly known as the “morning after” pill, “Plan B,” or “EC” is available at pharmacies in most states without a prescription. Because of the Obama administration’s recent compliance with court rulings, Plan-B One-Step will soon be available over-the-counter without a prescription without any other restrictions. If you are under 17 years of age, you need a prescription pill from your healthcare provider or from a health center like Planned Parenthood for some forms of the morning after. The pills’ effectiveness depends on what kind you take and how soon after unprotected sex you take it. They generally range in cost from $10- $70.
Emergency Contraception Pill Options
There are four types of pills available for emergency contraception, three of which can be obtained without a prescription. These are Plan B One-Step, Next Choice, and Next Choice One Dose (generics simply labeled “Levonorgestrel Tablets” may also be available). Plan B One-Step and Next Choice One Dose are single-pill products, while Next Choice requires that you take two pills for a complete dose. Plan B One-Step can be obtained at drug stores without a prescription at any age. Next Choice, Next Choice One Dose, and Plan B are available without a prescription at the pharmacy for anyone over 17, if you are under 17 you will still need a prescription from a healthcare provider. Next Choice One Dose, Next Choice, and Plan B One-Step are labeled to be used within 72 hours after unprotected sex. All three pills are progestin-only pills and are about 88% effective and 95% effective when taken in the first 24 hours and unprotected sex.
The third type of emergency contraception pill, known as ella, contains different ingredients (ulipristal acetate) and requires a prescription for women of all ages. When taken in the first 24 hours ella has been shown to be 65% more effective than progestin-only pills and if taken within 72 hours it is 42% more effective than progestin-only pills. While ella can be used up to five days after, research shows that the sooner EC is taken, the better it works.
Taking emergency contraception after unprotected sex is not an abortion. Unfortunately, many people think that the morning after pill is the same as RU486 or mifepristone, a drug that is used for abortion. This confusion is often purposely perpetuated by anti-choice advocates who oppose both abortion and contraception. In reality, the morning after pill prevents pregnancy in the same way that birth control pills do – by preventing or delaying the ovaries from releasing an egg and/or by making it harder for fertilization to occur. EC is not effective if fertilization has already taken place, which is why it should be taken as soon as possible after unprotected sex occurs. It’s not a bad idea to buy some to have at home, just in case!
EC is meant for emergency situations and should not be a primary method of contraception. It also will not protect from sexually transmitted diseases. Be sure to use other forms of contraception as often as possible with having sex.
Getting Emergency Contraception
Plan B One-Step will soon be available without a prescription over-the-counter without any age restrictions. Plan-B, Next Choice One Dose, and Next Choice are approved for sale pharmacies to people over the age of 17 without a prescription. They are not always inexpensive and can cost up to $70. Not all pharmacies carry EC so it might be a good idea to call ahead to see if they have it and to find out the hours of the pharmacy. At most pharmacies EC is behind the counter so in order to purchase it you must go while the pharmacy is open. However, Plan B One-Step will soon be available over-the-counter meaning the pharmacy will not need to be ope to purchase it. If you are under 17 be sure to have a prescription from a health care provider and if you are 17 or over you should probably bring a form of ID that can confirm your age if you are purchasing Next Choice, Next Choice One Dose, or Plan B. Additionally some states have different policies on the distribution of EC. You can learn more about your state’s policies here.
- Planned Parenthood is an excellent resource for information on the various methods of birth control and also dispenses emergency contraception at its conveniently located health centers.
- Use the easy Not-2-Late.com EC Locator to find a health center or pharmacy near you that carries emergency contraception.
- The Reproductive Health Technologies Project advocates for increased access to reproductive health services and contraception. Like the NWHN, the RHTP also supports the extension of access to emergency contraception for women under 17 without a prescription.
- An excerpt on emergency contraception from the 2011 edition of Our Bodies, Ourselves is available online at OurBodiesOurselves.org.