Emergency Contraception: What are My Options?

Published: July 1, 2019Updated: March 2, 2022
3 Types of Morning-After Pills: Effectiveness and Side Effects

So you just had unprotected sex, or you’re not certain that your birth control method worked. If you’re looking for emergency contraceptive options, keep reading. 

The morning-after pill, also known as an emergency contraceptive pill (or ECPs), is not the same thing as an abortion pill. While an abortion pill terminates a pregnancy, the morning-after pill keeps the pregnancy from happening altogether. The various morning-after pills contain a dose of hormones that work to either a) delay or prevent ovulation (the release of the egg from the ovary), b) prevent or interfere with fertilization or c) prevent a fertilized egg from attaching to the uterus. 

There are three kinds of emergency contraceptive pills available in the United States.

Ulipristal Acetate-based (ella):

These pills require a prescription, but they can be effective up to five days after unprotected sex. The risk of pregnancy after taking ella within 24 hours after sex is about 65% lower than the risk after taking progestin-only pills, meaning they are more effective. Also, ella is just as effective whether you take it immediately or on the 5th day.

Progestin/Levonorgestrel-based (Plan B One-Step):

These pills only contain progestin, or levonorgestrel, and can reduce pregnancy risk by 88%. After 24 hours, however, the effectiveness rate decreases. They are also less likely, when compared to combined pills, to give you side effects like nausea or vomiting. You can buy these pills over the counter.

Progestin and Estrogen-based:

These pills combine the hormones progestin and estrogen to halt ovulation/fertilization. They’re more prone to producing side-effects than their competitors, and are only 75% effective at reducing the risk of pregnancy. Many combined progestin-estrogen daily birth control pills can be taken as emergency contraception.

The sooner you take emergency contraceptive pills after having unprotected sex, the more effective they are, so try to take them as soon as you possibly can. You’ll know that the ECP has worked when you get your next period. Remember, emergency contraception is a safe and viable option, but shouldn’t be used as a primary method of birth control.

There is no medical evidence that suggests it is dangerous to use the morning-after pill frequently. However, ECPs can cause side effects like nausea, and it is not as effective at preventing pregnancy as a number of other primary birth control options. If you find yourself turning to emergency contraception pills often, talk to your doctor about the pill, patch, ring, IUD, or implant—these primary birth control methods are options for consistently protecting yourself against unplanned pregnancy.

If you do need emergency contraception, SimpleHealth can help. We offer the birth control pill, patch, or ring as well as emergency contraception and the internal condom. Just complete our easy, doctor-designed consultation to get started.

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