Emergency contraception can help keep you from getting pregnant if you had sex without using birth control or if your birth control method did not work. Emergency contraception is also called the “morning after pill.” But you do not need to wait until the morning after unprotected sex to take it. There are two types of FDA-approved emergency contraceptive pills (ECPs). Some ECPs can work when taken within five days of unprotected sex or when your birth control does not work correctly. Some ECPs are available without a prescription.
In the United States, there are two types of FDA-approved ECPs available for emergency contraception:
- ella® (ulipristal acetate)
- Plan B One-Step® (Levonorgestral [LNG]) — Plan B One-Step® has several generic versions. Some common generic versions include AfterPill®, My Way®, Next Choice One Dose®, and Take Action®.
- Plan B One-Step® and similar generic versions are available in stores without a prescription to anyone, of any age. If you do not see it on the shelf, ask the pharmacist for help.
- LNG tablets (two-pill generic Next Choice® and LNG tablets, 0.75 mg) are available to people aged 17 and older without a prescription. These brands are sold from behind the pharmacy counter.
- ella® is available only by prescription from your doctor, nurse, or family planning clinic.
Emergency contraception works best when you use it as soon as possible after unprotected sex. If you are unable to take it right away, emergency contraception can still work to prevent pregnancy if taken up to three to five days after unprotected sex. How long after depends on which type of emergency contraception you use.
- Take Plan B One-Step® or a generic version as soon as possible within three days (or 72 hours) after unprotected sex.
- For the two-dose version (Next Choice®, LNG tablets, 0.75 mg), take one pill as soon as possible within three days and the second pill 12 hours later.
- Take ella® (ulipristal acetate) as soon as possible within five days (or 120 hours) after unprotected sex.
Research shows that emergency contraception pills work mostly by preventing or delaying ovulation (the release of an egg from the ovary). Less commonly, emergency contraception may prevent fertilization of the egg by the sperm if ovulation has already happened. If a fertilized egg has already implanted in your uterus (you are pregnant), emergency contraception pills will not stop or harm your pregnancy.
Your doctor can give you a prescription to fill so you can have emergency contraception at home to use when you need it. Or you can buy some types of emergency contraception pills from a store at any time.
Under the Affordable Care Act (the health care law), most insurance plans cover FDA-approved emergency contraception and birth control at no cost to you. This includes Plan B One-Step® and ella®. Since you can buy Plan B One-Step® or the generic version in a store, without a prescription, call your insurance company to find out whether your plan covers over-the-counter emergency contraception.
- If you have insurance, check with your insurance provider to find out what’s included in your plan.
- If you have Medicaid, your insurance may cover emergency contraception. Coverage varies between states, so check with your state’s Medicaid program to learn what your benefits are.
- If you don’t have insurance, don’t panic. Family planning or health clinics like Planned Parenthood may provide emergency contraception for free or at low cost. Call your local clinic to learn more. To sign up for low-cost or no-cost health insurance, visit HealthCare.gov.