Facts About Emergency Contraception

By OBOS Birth Control Contributors | October 15, 2011
Last Revised on May 5, 2014

“The condom broke.”

“I didn’t think we were going to have sex.”

“I forgot to take my pill.”

“It just… happened.”

In an ideal world, we would always plan ahead, but the reality is that many of us have found ourselves at risk of a pregnancy that is unwanted. Fortunately, if this happens, we are no longer limited to waiting and worrying. Emergency contraception can be used immediately after unprotected intercourse or a birth control failure, or up to five days after.

Using emergency contraception greatly decreases the chances of a pregnancy. It does not work if you are already pregnant. (If you think you may already be pregnant, see Unexpected Pregnancy.) It does not cause abortion.

There are two different kinds of emergency contraception: emergency contraception pills (ECPs) and Copper-T, which is a type of IUD that can be inserted up to five days after sex to prevent pregnancy. To learn more about the different kinds of ECPs, see Types of Emergency Contraception Pills. To learn more about using the Copper-T as emergency contraception, see How to Use the IUD as Emergency Contraception.

In the United States, some types of ECPs are available only with a prescription from a health care provider,and some are available over the counter at pharmacies to people 17 and older. One emergency contraceptive pill, Plan B One-Step, is available without prescription to people of any age. Plan B One-Step generally costs about $40-50.

Although some forms of emergency contraception have been used for several decades, most women and many providers still do not know that it is available and effective. If more women knew about and were able to get emergency contraception when needed, many unintended pregnancies and abortions could be prevented.