If you've had unprotected sex and aren't ready for a pregnancy, emergency contraception is an option.
April 24, 2013
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Almost half of the 6.7 million pregnancies in the U.S. each year are unplanned and in teens 19 and younger, more than 80% of pregnancies are unintended.
Emergency contraception pills (Plan B and Ella) can prevent unwanted pregnancies. In fact, one study estimated that the so-called morning-after pill could reduce the rate of unplanned pregnancies by half. But many women don’t know about emergency contraception, don’t think it’s available without a prescription or aren’t sure how to use it.
Here are some myths and facts about the morning-after pill.
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It's the same as abortion
Emergency contraception prevents pregnancy, it doesn't interfere with an existing pregnancy.
Both Plan B and Ella contain hormones that work largely by suppressing ovulation, although they may also prevent pregnancy by blocking fertilization or stopping a fertilized egg from implanting in the uterine wall.
In medical terms, a pregnancy exists only if the fertilized egg is implanted in the uterus. If you take a morning-after pill, but are already pregnant, it does not harm the fetus.
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You need a prescription
In the past, Plan B (both brand name and generic) was only available without an Rx to women 17 and over (younger teens needed to have a prescription).
A 2013 court ruling changed that. Plan B is now available to women of any age over-the-counter. In this case, though, over-the-counter still means you have to ask your pharmacist for it. Ella is available to all ages, but only with a prescription.
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You don't have to rush to take it
It’s recommended that women take Plan B within 72 hours of unprotected sex, but it is most effective when taken within 12 hours (up to 85% effective). After that, its effectiveness wanes dramatically.
Ella, on the other hand, can be taken up to five days after unprotected intercourse without losing its effectiveness. Ella prevents 80-85% of pregnancies that might have occurred if the drug wasn’t taken.
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You can only get it in an emergency
You can get either Ella or Plan B, which is now also available in generic form, at any time. Your pharmacist can give you Plan B without a prescription. Ella still needs a prescription.
In fact, N. Jean Amoura, MD, associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha, recommends that sexually active women keep Plan B available at home in case they have unprotected sex or their primary birth control method fails.
“We know that the use of it is improved by having it ready or available before a woman even needs it,” she says.
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The morning-after pill is unsafe
In about half of cases, morning-after pills can cause nausea and vomiting, but there is no evidence that they can cause medical harm, says Dr. Amoura. The side effects can be less than those seen with regular birth control pills.
And there are decades of research on both Plan B and on standard contraception, which essentially work the same way. The potential health risks of an unplanned pregnancy are higher than any potential harm from the morning-after pill.
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You can use it in place of regular birth control
The regular use of birth control, such as the pill or condoms, is more effective than emergency contraception when it comes to preventing pregnancy.
That’s one reason not to use the morning-after pill as your method of contraception. Another reason? Price. Even the generic form of Plan B can cost about $50 a dose.
That will get expensive quickly, especially now that it’s available over-the-countermeaning some insurance plans may not cover it.
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You can't take it more than once
Years of research and experience have shown that there are no dangers to either the woman or a baby (if she does become pregnant) when emergency contraception is taken more than once.
"There are no known safety risks with doing that," said Dr. Amoura. And because a single dose of Plan B or Ella will only cover one incident of unprotected intercourse, you may have to take it again at some point in the future. It’s not recommended, though, simply because emergency contraception is not as effective as using regular and consistent birth control.
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They protect against STDs
Wrong. Neither Plan B nor Ella provide any protection at all against sexually transmitted diseases such as herpes or HIV.
Unprotected sex, on the other hand, can put you at risk for infection. Condoms are the only form of birth control that will protect against STDs.
According to Planned Parenthood, more than half of sexually active people will contract an STD, which may or may not cause symptoms. If you suspect you have an STD, get tested.
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They encourage promiscuity
There is no evidence that having emergency contraception easily available increases the number of sexual partners, age of first sexual experience, or rate of sexually transmitted diseases.
One British study of almost 3,000 boys and girls aged 14 to 15 found that teaching teens about emergency contraception did not change their sexual behavior or even their use of emergency contraception.