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 several dedicated progestin-only emergency contraceptive products that may be for sale, such as Plan B One-Step.
Plan B One-Step and its generic forms such as Take Action, Next Choice One Dose and My Way contain 1.5 mg of levonorgestrel in just one pill, which you take as soon as possible after sex. Research 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 another EC pill available in the US, called ella. This is the most effective EC pill available here, and it 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.
In the United States, regulations on the sale of EC have changed frequently, so it can be quite confusing. Below is some information about how the different brands of EC are sold. If you want to use ella, call the pharmacy first to be sure that it is in stock.
Progestin-only EC (like Plan B One-Step and its generic forms Take Action, Next Choice One Dose and My Way) are approved for unrestricted sale on store shelves. Even though the package directions for the generics say that it’s intended for use by women ages 17 and older, anyone can buy it without needing to show ID. Plan B One-Step usually costs about $40-$50, and the generics cost about $35-$45.
- If you want to use insurance to purchase EC, go to the pharmacy counter and ask for help.
- You can order a generic form of Plan B One-Step at www.afterpill.com for $20 + $5 shipping. This site does not offer expedited shipping, so it's not meant for emergency use, but you can stock up and keep it on hand for future use.
- ella is sold by prescription only, regardless of age. You can also order ella through an online prescription service for $59, including 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 .