Emergency Contraception (EC), also commonly known as the “morning-after pill,” is used to prevent pregnancy when a primary form of contraception fails, or contraception was not used.

Emergency Contraception can be used up to five days after unprotected sex but is more effective the sooner it’s taken. When used within 24 hours after unprotected intercourse, it is about 95% effective at preventing unwanted pregnancy. It does not protect against sexually transmitted diseases (STIs) and is not as effective as other methods of birth control, so it should not be used routinely.1

Types of Emergency Contraception

Via Kaiser Permanente

There are three types of emergency contraception available: pills containing the progestin levonorgestrel, which is the same hormone used in many birth control pills (brand names Plan B and Next Choice EC); pills containing ulipristal acetate (brand name ella); and the Copper-T IUD (brand name ParaGard).

How effective is Emergency Contraception?

EC’s effectiveness depends on what type you use, and how soon after unprotected sex you take it; for all types of EC, taking it as soon as possible is best!

Plan B and Next Choice EC, which contain a synthetic version of progestin, can be taken up to 120 hours (5 days) after unprotected sex. When taken within 72 hours, this form of EC is up to 89% effective; it is less effective at preventing pregnancy after 72 hours.

ella, which uses progesterone, is only available by prescription. When taken in the first 24 hours after unprotected sex, ella is 85% effective at preventing pregnancy, and it stays that effective for up to 120 hours (5 days).

The Copper-T IUD is more effective than both types of EC pill; it reduces your risk of pregnancy by more than 99% and can provide additional birth control for up to 12 years.1

Where can I get Emergency Contraception?

The ella brand Emergency Contraception requires a prescription.

Plan B Emergency Contraception is available at pharmacies over-the-counter (OTC) without a prescription. The EC Next Choice and Next Choice One are available without a prescription for women over age 17. The EC ella requires a prescription for all women, and the Copper-T IUD must be inserted by a doctor or nurse.1   

Emergency Contraception generally ranges in cost from $20- $70 but may be covered by health insurance plans at no cost with a prescription from your doctor.

Is Emergency Contraception the same as an abortion?

Taking EC after unprotected sex is not an abortion. The medication 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.

Taking EC will not terminate an existing pregnancy and should not be taken by women who think they may be pregnant.1

Share Your Story

We know that some pharmacies are refusing to fill EC (and/or other birth control) prescriptions. If you have had trouble finding EC on your neighborhood pharmacy’s shelves or had a pharmacist refuse to an EC prescription, share your story with us!

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  1. WebMD Website, Emergency Contraception, New York, NY: WebMD, no date. Retrieved on June 30, 2015 from: http://www.webmd.com/sex-relationships/guide/emergency-contraception.


Updated August 2015

The Pill


  1. The Mayo Clinic: a prestigious medical center with trustworthy medical information
  2. Planned Parenthood: a non-profit organization that does research into and gives advice on contraception, family planning, and reproductive health
  3. WebMD: a source of trustworthy medical news and information