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Emergency Contraception

  • 3 million unintended pregnancies occur each year in the United States alone; approximately 1.4 million of them end in abortion.
  • While other means of contraception are preferable, another available tool is "emergency contraception" (EC), also known as the "morning after pill." 
  • EC is NOT the same thing as "RU486" or an "abortion pill."  EC contains the same ingredients as standard birth control pills, just in much higher doses.
  • An emergency is defined as a situation in which a woman's normal contraceptive has failed (e.g. the condom broke) or, for whatever reason, a couple failed to use contraception.
  • Two FDA-approved brands of EC are currently on the market:  Preven (since 1998) and Plan B (since 1999).  They are essentially higher-dose versions of the birth control pill, compressed into two tablets. The first dose must be taken within 72 hours after having unprotected sex, followed by a second pill taken 12 hours later.
  • EC is said to be 75 percent effective in preventing an unwanted pregnancy
    after sex by interrupting ovulation, fertilization, and implantation of the egg.
  • Many advocates of EC recommend that all women who are heterosexually active who would not want to go through an unintended pregnancy should
    have a "back-up" dose of EC available at home "just in case."
  • EC is currently available by prescription only.  There are ongoing lobbying initiatives to try to make EC available without a prescription in several states. The argument in favor of this focuses on the fact that you may not be able to see a doctor in time, as many doctor's offices are closed on weekends and holidays, the most likely times for unprotected sex. Women in rural areas may face additional logistical difficulties, such as finding a pharmacy that stocks EC products. Some states have "conscience-clauses" that exempt pharmacists from dispensing drugs that have to do with women's reproductive freedom.
  • It is very important to understand that EC is NOT an abortion. The two EC pills you take are not RU-486, the abortion pill, which can be taken up to nine weeks into a pregnancy.
  • EC does not work if you are already pregnant and will not harm a developing fetus.
  • EC has a long shelf life. You can keep your EC on hand for two
    years, according to the FDA.
  • In addition to Preven or Plan B, birth control pills that can be used as EC include:

    • Trivora (4 pink tablets)

    • Alesse (5 pink tablets)

    • Levlite (5 pink tablets)

    • Nordette (4 light orange tablets)

    • Lo/Ovral (4 white tablets)

    • Levlen (4 light orange tablets)

    • Levora (4 white tablets)

    • Low-Ogestrel (4 white tablets)

    • Tri-Levlen (4 yellow tablets)

    • Triphasil (4 yellow tablets)

For more information on contraception, click here.

Created: 9/28/2002  -  Donnica Moore, M.D.

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