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Emergency Contraception

Despite the many highly effective birth control options from which women have to choose, none is 100 percent perfect. Mistakes happen – a condom breaks, a woman misses a pill, or she simply has sex when she did not expect or even want to do so.

Emergency contraception (EC) is a safe, effective back-up birth control method that can prevent pregnancy after unprotected intercourse or contraceptive failure. EC does not terminate a pregnancy and will not work if someone is already pregnant. EC can be used safely multiple times – any time there is a risk of unintended pregnancy. However, EC only works within a certain period of time following intercourse and may not be as effective as routine methods of birth control. It also provides no protection from HIV/AIDS or sexually transmitted infections.

Recent studies have raised concerns about the efficacy of EC pills (particularly levonorgestrel products such as Plan B One-Step® and its generics) when the user is above a certain weight. While the research is still underway, what is known is that ulipristal acetate pills (sold in the US as ella®) are effective at higher weights than levonorgestrel pills and the ParaGard® copper intrauterine device (IUD) is the most effective form of EC at any weight. RHTP encourages more studies on the efficacy of EC at various body weights. In the interim, women over 176 pounds in need of EC should consider using ParaGard® or ella®, which are only available from a provider or with a prescription, respectively.

Since 1992, RHTP has been at the forefront of efforts to bring EC into the mainstream, from launching the first-ever EC advertising campaign to mobilizing support for the US Food and Drug Administration application to make an EC product available over-the-counter (OTC) (i.e., without a prescription). All one-dose levonorgestrel-based EC products are now approved to be sold OTC, though some products are still not routinely stocked on store shelves. RHTP continues to work to make more EC products affordable and available to all people without barriers such as age restrictions or religious refusals.