It's easier than ever to buy morning-after pills like Plan B online. Here's how to do it safely.
Accidents happen—and when your usual method of birth control fails, it can be stressful to figure out the easiest, fastest way to get your hands on the morning-after pill to prevent an unwanted pregnancy.
If you live in the U.S., levonorgestrel morning-after pills like Plan B One-Step are available over-the-counter in every state, says Katharine O'Connell White, MD, an assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Boston University and director at the Fellowship in Family Planning. She tells Health that you can find morning-after pills at your local pharmacy or family planning clinic such as Planned Parenthood, as well as some hospitals and doctor's offices. You should never need to provide your age, an ID, or a prescription in order to buy them.
Plan B is the most common levonorgestrel morning-after pill on the market, but there are others, too, such as My Way, Next Choice One Dose, and Take Action. All contain the same ingredient, a synthetic form of progestin that works to prevent the ovary from releasing an egg. According to Planned Parenthood, Plan B usually costs a little more than the other brands, but they're all equally effective. (Plan B is "like the Kleenex of emergency contraception," notes Dr. White, "but the brand doesn't matter.")
If you live in a rural area, don't have a reliable form of transportation, or just want some privacy, it might not be convenient for you to go to a pharmacy or clinic IRL. Luckily, within the past few years, more and more buying options have emerged for the morning-after pill—including online.
"It's nice that there are so many options to get emergency contraception on your own without having to go through any gatekeepers," says Dr. White. Still, there are a few things you should keep in mind before you click "add to cart." Here's how to safely shop for the morning-after pill without leaving your house.
Stocking up ahead of time is smart
"Emergency contraception is sort of like Band-Aids," says Dr. White. "You don't buy a Band-Aid when you cut yourself; ideally you would have bought them in advance and had them in your medicine cabinet when you need them." She recommends that all her patients who are having sex with men, don't have an IUD or their tubes tied, and don't want to get pregnant have some form of emergency contraception in their homes at all times.
For this reason, if you're not in a rush, buying the morning-after pill online can be convenient and a good way to quickly stock up, providing you're getting it from a reputable source (more on that later).
Timing is really important
When you're buying emergency contraception online for a "just in case" scenario, shipping speed isn't a huge concern. But it's important to remember that levonorgestrel morning-after pills have up to an 89% chance of preventing pregnancy–when taken within 72 hours of unprotected sex. The longer you wait, the less effective they'll be. So, if you didn't stock up on emergency contraception ahead of time (which, to be fair, many of us probably don't), waiting for a product to ship could increase your risk of unplanned pregnancy.
There's more than one type of emergency contraception
Morning-after pills that contain levonorgestrel are the only form of emergency contraception approved for over-the-counter use, and as a result, they're the most well known. But there's also Ella, a prescription-only morning-after pill that contains ulipristal acetate and is effective up to five days after unprotected sex.
There's also a form of emergency contraception that isn't a pill at all. "Copper IUDs are the most effective form of emergency contraception," says Dr. White. The copper IUD can lower your chances of getting pregnant by more than 99%, and it can be inserted up to five days after unprotected sex.
Most people will probably be deciding between Plan B and Ella; the latter is usually a little more expensive and not quite as widely available as Plan B. Your weight matters, too: Levonorgestrel pills lose their effectiveness in women who have BMIs over 26, while Ella starts to lose its effectiveness at BMIs of 35. (And no, taking two Plan B pills won't make a difference: "It's not just a matter of the dose, it's how the medication works," says Dr. White.)
Where to shop online
Levonorgestrel morning-after pills are available at a number of online retailers, including walmart.com, cvs.com, and amazon.com. Once again, consider ship times: Walmart and CVS offer free two-day shipping, as does Amazon for Prime members, but waiting that long could drastically up your risk of pregnancy if you need the pill right now.
If it's not urgent, though, afterpill.com is a good choice; while the site doesn't offer expedited shipping, the prices are much more affordable. The site also clearly notes expiration dates, an important feature, according to Dr. White. "Levonorgestrel pills usually last 18 to 24 months, and if you're buying ahead, the expiration date really matters," she says.
Although you need a prescription for Ella, it's still possible to buy it online on the websites kwikmed.com, ellanow.com, and prjktruby.com. "These websites will include a physician consultation as part of the product, then include a prescription as part of that consult," Dr. White says. For added convenience, Kwikmed can also transfer a prescription directly to your local pharmacy, she adds.
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But online might not be the cheapest option
You don't need a prescription to get Plan B. But if cost is a concern, Dr. White recommends calling your doctor to ask for a prescription anyway, since if you have one, you will most likely only pay the cost of the copay. Medicaid also usually covers Plan B, she adds, and Ella is covered by "the vast majority" of health insurances.
"Most should be willing to call in a prescription for you over the phone without having to go in for a visit," says Dr. White. "So, the cheapest option of all may be to call your doctor's office first."