|THE WAYS EMERGENCY BIRTH CONTROL PILLS WORK
Emergency birth control pills do not cause abortion. Emergency birth control pills like regular birth control pills: they delay ovulation and may keep the egg from being fertilized. It’s possible, although unproven, that emergency birth control pills could also keep the egg from implanting (that is, stop it from attaching to a woman’s uterus). But this would not end a pregnancy. The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, the American College of Obstetricians & Gynecologists, and almost all professional medical groups define pregnancy as beginning when the egg has finished implanting.
This Web page contains myths and the facts about emergency birth control pills (also known as emergency contraception, morning after pills, or Plan B®). The glossary explains the linked (underlined) words. The bibliography provides links to more information.
Myth: There is nothing I can do after unprotected sex to prevent pregnancy.
Fact: To prevent pregnancy, you can take emergency birth control pills up to 72 hours (three days!) after unprotected sex. Emergency birth control pills may still work up to five days (120 hours) after unprotected sex. You may have heard of emergency birth control pills as emergency contraception, Plan B®. or 'morning-after pills.' These are all terms for the same medication. If used quickly and correctly, emergency birth control pills can lower your chance of getting pregnant by 89%!
Myth: Emergency birth control pills cause abortion.
Fact: Emergency birth control pills are not the same as the abortion pill and do not cause abortion. Emergency birth control pills will not affect an existing pregnancy. Important medical associations agree that you are not pregnant until a fertilized egg implants itself in the wall of your uterus. Emergency birth control pills cannot cause abortion because they prevent fertilization and have no effect on an implanted egg.
Emergency birth control pills also have no effect on an embryo or fetus. If you are already pregnant, taking emergency birth control pills will not harm your pregnancy or cause birth defects.
Emergency birth control pills delay ovulation and may keep an egg from being fertilized. It’s possible, though unproven, that emergency birth control pills could also prevent the egg from implanting (that is, stop it from attaching to the wall of the uterus).
Emergency birth control pills are the same medicine as regular birth control pills; they are made of the hormone progestin and, sometimes, estrogen. The ‘abortion pill” (RU 486 or mifepristone) is a different drug. It contains a different hormone, antiprogesterone, as well as with other steroidal hormones.
Myth: Emergency birth control pills are unsafe.
Fact: Emergency birth control pills are very safe. Emergency birth control pills work exactly the same as regular birth control pills. In fact, emergency birth control pills are the same medication as many birth control pills, used in a specific way. Birth control pills are one of the best-studied and safest drugs available today. The Food & Drug Administration (FDA) approved the Yuzpe regimen and Plan B®. Both methods work well and are safe.
You can get Plan B® in pharmacies and many family planning clinics. Other clinics and pharmacies also fill prescriptions for emergency birth control pills by using repackaged birth control pills.
Some women experience mild side effects—like nausea, diarrhea, and fatigue—for a short period of time after taking emergency birth control pills. Even women who cannot take regular birth control pills for medical reasons can use emergency birth control pills. For more information, check with your health care provider.
- Like regular birth control pills, emergency birth control pills cause no increased risk of ectopic pregnancy or of birth defects.
- Emergency birth control pills do not interact negatively with other drugs, and you can’t become addicted to them.
- You should not take emergency birth control pills if you are pregnant. Only because they won’t work if you’re already pregnant! Emergency birth control pills will not harm the embryo or fetus.
Myth: Emergency birth control pills are not safe for young women.
Fact: Young women have been using birth control pills as emergency contraception since the 1960s. No studies of emergency birth control pills have included women younger than 15. But no one has reported harmful effects on young women. In fact, major medical associations, such as the Society for Adolescent Medicine and American Academy of Pediatrics, support easier access to emergency birth control pills because they are entirely safe for teenage and adult women. Emergency birth control pills are safer than aspirin.
Myth: I need a parent's permission to get emergency birth control pills.
Fact: Most young women don't need a parent's permission to get emergency birth control pills. In fact, teens age 16 and older in South Carolina have the right to get emergency birth control pills confidentially without asking or telling their parents. Plus, Plan B® is now available without a prescription to women ages 18 and over. Ask your pharmacist. If you are under 18, you will still need a prescription ask your doctor.
Myth: Emergency birth control pills can affect my ability to have a baby in the future.
Fact: Neither birth control pills nor emergency birth control pills affect your ability to get pregnant later. Emergency birth control pills are higher doses of regular birth control pills. After taking emergency birth control pills, you could have heavier or lighter bleeding. You might get your period sooner or later than usual. Your period might be longer or shorter. But after a month or so, your menstrual cycle should return to normal.
If your period is more than a week late, you should visit your regular health care provider, as you might be pregnant. If you are pregnant, remember that having taken emergency birth control pills will not affect your pregnancy or cause birth defects.
Myth: Using emergency birth control pills more than once is dangerous.
Fact: Emergency birth control pills contain the same hormones as regular birth control (oral contraceptives) and are similar to those your body produces. While no one has specifically studied the effects of using emergency birth control pills over and over (mostly because it occurs so rarely), you can use regular birth control pills safely for extended periods of time without any negative effects. Your health care provider should be willing to prescribe emergency birth control pills for you when you need them, no matter whether or how often you've needed them before.
Myth: If I take emergency birth control pills, I can’t get pregnant until my next period.
Fact: Emergency birth control pills will only keep you from getting pregnant when they are taken within the prescribed time AFTER unprotected sex. If you have unprotected sex after taking emergency birth control pills, you can get pregnant. To prevent this, be sure you use a condom when having sex after taking emergency birth control pills. Then return to your regular form of birth control when your next cycle begins. If you don’t already have one, choose and use a regular form of protection.
Myth: Emergency birth control pills protect me against diseases.
Fact: Neither emergency birth control pills or regular birth control pills protect against sexually transmitted infections, including HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. Emergency birth control pills and regular oral contraceptives can help keep you from getting pregnant, but will do nothing to protect you against sexually transmitted infections. To keep from getting an infection, you and your partner should use condoms at every act of vaginal, oral, or anal sex.
Myth: Doctors know all about emergency birth control pills and discuss them with their patients.
Fact: Few doctors know about and discuss emergency birth control pills with their patients. Only one in five obstetricians and gynecologists talks about emergency birth control pills with patients on a regular basis. Among all health care professionals, only one in ten discusses emergency birth control pills. In fact, some doctors wrongly believe that emergency birth control pills cause abortion.
Many young people go to pediatricians. Pediatricians are often misinformed about or entirely unaware of emergency birth control pills.
In short, your doctor may know very little about emergency birth control pills and may not offer it to you as an option. So, don't wait for the doctor to suggest emergency birth control pills; ask for a prescription for emergency birth control pills so you have them on hand in case of emergency.
Myth: Doctors and hospitals make emergency birth control pills available to all rape victims.
Fact: Many hospitals do not offer emergency birth control pills to sexual assault survivors. In South Carolina, if you tell someone at the emergency room that you have been raped, the law says they must provide emergency birth control pills upon request. Contact your local rape crisis center for more information.
Myth: Emergency birth control pills are not important for teens.
Fact: Teens need emergency birth control pills at least as much as adult women. If you are having sex, you could experience pregnancy. In the United States each year, about 750,000 to 850,000 young women become pregnant; 85% of these pregnancies are unintended. Many teenage women become pregnant after their birth control failed or they had unprotected sex. Many young women also experience sexual assault or dating violence. Surveys show that one in five women has been forced or coerced into sex, and most report that the rape occurred while they were teenagers.
Need emergency birth control pills? Click here to learn how to get them—when you need them, or better yet, before you need them!
Myth: I can't get emergency birth control pills until it is an emergency.
Fact: You can ask your health care provider for a prescription for emergency birth control pills at any time. Having a prescription or a supply of emergency birth control pills on hand before you need them will mean that you can take the pills as soon as possible when you need them. In South Carolina, you may have a prescription filled for up to two years after you received it. Women 18 and over are now able to get Plan B® from a pharmacist without a prescription whenever they ask for it in an emergency, or in advance.
Myth: Making emergency birth control pills available will encourage people to take sexual risks or not use regular birth control.
Fact: Studies prove that most emergency birth control pills users are on regular birth control, but accidents happen. Among the few who weren't using birth control consistently or at all, one study showed that 90 percent began using a regular method of birth control after they used emergency birth control pills in an emergency.