Emergency contraception can prevent pregnancy if used soon after having sex. It can be used after unprotected sex, or if another method of birth control is used inconsistently (such as missing two or more birth control pills) or fails (like if a condom breaks).
Emergency contraception comes in two forms: the copper intrauterine device (IUD) and emergency oral contraception, also known as the morning after pill in brand names such as Plan B and ella.
The most effective form of emergency birth control is the copper IUD – ParaGard is the only brand currently available in the United States. A trained clinician or a doctor here at the Comprehensive Women’s Health Center can insert the IUD into the uterus within five days after unprotected intercourse to prevent pregnancy.
The copper in the IUD has three advantages over oral emergency contraceptive pills.
- Its pregnancy prevention rate of 99.01 percent is about 10 times more effective than oral emergency contraceptives.
- It can be inserted up to five days after sex and still be effective.
- Once a woman has a copper IUD inserted for emergency purposes, it will prevent pregnancy for up to 12 years, reducing the chances of unintended pregnancies, something an oral emergency contraceptive doesn’t accomplish after its one use.
Copper ions are toxic to sperm and can damage the sperm’s motility or ability to move toward the egg. This prevents fertilization from occurring, preventing pregnancy.
The Plan B oral emergency contraceptive uses levonorgestrel, a progestin hormone commonly found in standard birth control pills. This form of emergency contraception is a higher dose of the normal birth control pill that can be taken up to five days after having unprotected sex, although the sooner it is taken, the more likely it will be effective. Plan B oral emergency contraceptive may also be less effective for women who are overweight or obese.
ella oral emergency contraceptives use ulipristal acetate to delay ovulation. Available by prescription only, ella can be taken up to five days after having unprotected sex. It is generally more effective than progestin-only emergency contraceptives like Plan B when taken during or near ovulation or when taken on the fifth day after unprotected sex. ella oral contraceptives are more effective for overweight or obese women than products like Plan B.
Emergency contraception (the morning after pill) and the copper IUD will not terminate a pregnancy if it has already occurred. The morning after pill should not replace routine methods of birth control. The copper IUD can be left in place after its emergency use as a long-acting form of contraceptive.
Birth control resources
Anyone of any age can buy the ParaGard copper IUD or Plan B and generic versions of the morning after pill over the counter (without a prescription). Unlike Plan B, ella requires a prescription, but can be purchased by anyone of any age who has obtained a prescription from a medical professional. ParaGard IUD requires a visit to a healthcare provider for insertion.
If you want to avoid pregnancy, ask your doctor or medical health provider to help you find an ongoing birth control method that will work for you.
Provides a searchable list of providers in your area who will write a prescription for emergency contraception.
The manufacturer of Plan B One-Step morning after pill’s website, providing some good information about the emergency contraceptive pill.
Provides helpful information about the ella emergency contraceptive pill.
A resource for free and confidential birth control for women under age 25.
Located at Children’s Hospital Colorado, 720-777-BC4U.