Progestin-only Emergency Contraceptive Pills ("Morning After Pills")
Progestin-only emergency contraceptive pills ("morning after pills") are pills that contain levonorgestrel, a type of the hormone progestin researchers have found prevents pregnancy when taken in the few days after sex. In the United States, there are currently three progestin-only emergency contraceptive pills that may be available for sale: Plan B One-Step, Next Choice One Dose, Next Choice and Levonorgestrel Tablets.
Plan B One-Step and Next Choice One Dose contain 1.5 mg of levonorgestrel in just one pill, which you take as soon as possible after sex. The packages for Next Choice and Levonorgestrel Tablets contain two emergency contraceptive pills (each containing 0.75mg of levonorgestrel), and the instructions tell you to take them 12 hours apart. Studies show that you can take both pills (the full 1.5mg dose) at the same time. Research also shows that you can use emergency contraception up to 120 hours after sex, even though the instructions say to take the pills within 72 hours. About one woman in four (23%) feels sick to her stomach and about one in 17 (6%) throws up after taking progestin-only emergency contraception. (For more details about using these pills, click here.)
Progestin-only emergency contraceptive pills reduce your risk of pregnancy by about 88%. Don't worry, that doesn't mean 12% of women get pregnant using these morning after pills. It just means that this type of emergency contraception prevents 88% of the pregnancies researchers would expect would happen when a woman doesn't use birth control, her contraception fails (like the condom breaks or falls off), or she is made to have sex against her will. Usually, if 100 women have sex without using birth control one time during the second or third week of their menstrual cycle, about 8 of them will get pregnant. But if those same 100 women also use progestin-only emergency contraceptive pills, only one will get pregnant. These pills work better the sooner you take them after sex.
In addition to progestin-only emergency contraception, there is a new EC option available in the US, called ella. This is the most effective EC pill available here, and is sold by prescription only. You can also use certain brands of birth control pills that contain two hormones (both progestin and estrogen) or the Copper-T IUD to prevent pregnancy after sex.
There are different regulations on how to purchase the different emergency contraceptive pills available in the United States, so it can be a bit confusing. Be sure to call the pharmacy first to find out what brands of EC are in stock, so you know whether you need a prescription or not.
- Plan B (the original version, which contains 2 pills instead of one) is still carried in some pharmacies but is being phased out.
- ella is sold by prescription only, regardless of age. You can also order ella through an online prescription service for $40, including next-day shipping.
To learn which brands of emergency contraception and daily birth control pills can be found in the United States or any other country, try using our up-to-date database.
For a more detailed academic review of the medical and social science literature about emergency contraception, click here .