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Family Planning

Emergency Contraception (EC)
(The Morning After Pill)

Emergency Contraception

Emergency Contraception (EC), also called the morning after pill, is a safe way to prevent pregnancy after unprotected sex. For example, when a condom breaks, you miss a birth control pill or two, or you are forced to have sex. It can prevent pregnancy up to 5 days after unprotected sex, but it works best when it is taken as soon as possible. Some health centers only offer it up to 3 days after unprotected sex.

EC does not cause an abortion. If you are already pregnant, EC will NOT cause an abortion and will have NO effect on an existing pregnancy.

EC will not protect you against STIs or HIV. If you had unprotected sex, you may want to get tested for STIs. To protect yourself from STIs/HIV, you must use a condom every time you have sex.

EC does not work as well as on-going hormonal contraception. Call 311 for a referral to a health care professional to talk about different types of contraception, or visit your school-based health center or local family planning clinic.

Where can I get EC pills?

  • If you are 17 or older you can now buy EC at a pharmacy without a prescription. You also can get EC pills for free at any of the health departmentsí free and low-cost STD clinics.
  • If you are 16 or younger you can get a prescription for EC at a health center. Some health centers will give you EC for free, including the health departmentís STD clinics
  • .

  • Call 311 for more information on how to get EC or to find a health center near you.
  • At all Health Department STD clinics, EC is free and is available without an appointment and can be obtained without parental consent.
  • You can also get information and referrals from the emergency contraception hotline by calling 1-888-NOT-2-LATE or by visiting

What will my pharmacist or health care provider need to know to prescribe EC for me? Your pharmacist or health care provider will specifically want to know: 1) when you had unprotected sex (day and time); 2) when the first day of your last menstrual period was; and 3) whether you are pregnant already.

You also should talk with your health care provider about your risk for STIs and your choices for effective ongoing contraception and STI prevention.

How is EC usually provided? Two methods are available in the United States: EC pills, the most common method, and the copper IUD (intrauterine device).

  1. EC Pills: EC pills are most effective when taken as soon as possible after unprotected sex, ideally within 72 hours. When taken within 72 hours, EC pills are up to 89% effective in preventing pregnancy.
  2. Copper IUD (intrauterine device): Insertion of a copper IUD by a health care provider within 5 days after unprotected sex is very effective (99%) in reducing the risk of pregnancy. The IUD prevents pregnancy by stopping fertilization of the egg by sperm. A woman may choose to keep the IUD in place for up to 10 years for ongoing contraception protection.

Do emergency contraception pills have side effects? Emergency contraception pills are considered safe: no serious or long-term complications have been linked to their use. The most common side effects are nausea (in up to 50% of women) and vomiting (in up to 20% of women).

Is EC the same as abortion? No. Emergency contraception does not cause an abortion, it only prevents pregnancy. EC pills don't work if you already are pregnant. Because EC reduces the risk of becoming pregnant, it helps to prevent the need for abortion.

If I have taken EC pills before, can I take them again? It is safe to take EC pills more than one time, if necessary. However, emergency contraception is not as effective as other contraceptive methods. The best way to prevent pregnancy is to visit your health care provider, school- or community-based health center, or a family planning clinic to choose the contraceptive method that's right for you.

What if I was exposed to HIV or other sexually transmitted infections? Anyone who has unprotected sex is at risk for getting or spreading HIV and other STIs. EC does not protect against STIs. If you've had unprotected sex, it is important to speak to your health care provider about testing and treatment for STIs. Condoms are the only contraceptive method that can prevent HIV and other STIs. To protect yourself and others, use a latex condom (link to condoms site) or a female condom (link to female condom on condoms site) every time you have sex, no matter what kind of hormonal contraception you use.

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