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Emergency Contraception (the Morning-After Pill)

February 5th, 2008

What is emergency contraception?

Emergency contraception (EC) literally means "emergency birth control", and it can prevent you from getting pregnant if you have had unprotected sex.EC will not cause an abortion-meaning EC will not terminate your pregnancy-or prevent you from getting a sexually transmitted disease (STD).EC was originally called the "Morning After Pill", but now we know that you can take EC within five (5) days after having unprotected sex to prevent pregnancy.Even so, you should take EC as soon as you can after having unprotected sex if you don't want to get pregnant.

What exactly does "unprotected sex" mean?

Unprotected sex means that you have had sex that you think could result in you getting pregnant or getting a sexually transmitted disease (STD).This could mean that you didn't use a condom or forgot to take your birth control pill.It could mean that your condom broke or slipped while you were having sex or when your partner "pulled out".It could also mean that you were forced to have sex when you didn't want or plan to and weren't able to use a condom or birth control.

How does EC work?

EC contains a high dose of the same hormones that are in birth control pills.These hormones can prevent you from getting pregnant in two ways:

1)EC can prevent "fertilization": EC can stop your ovaries from releasing an egg (ovulating) that could fertilize with sperm and attach to your uterus.

2)EC can prevent "implantation": If you have already ovulated, EC can stop your fertilized egg from attaching to your uterus by making your uterine lining smooth.

If your fertilized egg has already implanted (which means you're already pregnant), EC will not do anything. It will NOT affect a pregnancy that already exists or cause an abortion.

How effective is EC?

EC works 99%-75% of the time.EC's effectiveness depends on a combination of factors, like how soon you take EC after having unprotected sex and where you are in your menstrual cycle.If you take EC the day after having unprotected sex, your body will have had less time to ovulate and the sperm will have had less time to fertilize with your egg, so EC is more likely to protect you from getting pregnant.On the other hand, if you are at the point in your menstrual cycle where you have just ovulated, then your egg is right there to meet the sperm, so the EC's only shot may be at stopping your fertilized egg from attaching to your uterus.

The most important thing to remember is that the sooner you take EC, the more likely it will get your egg or your uterus in time to prevent a pregnancy.

What are the side effects of EC?

Some women won't feel anything after they take EC.Many other women experience mild period cramps, light bleeding, upset stomach (because of the high dose of hormones), or headache.The light period cramps and bleeding occur because the EC is smoothing your uterine lining so that a fertilized egg can't attach to it.These side effects are temporary and will stop as soon as the EC is out of your system after a couple of days.

OK, so if EC doesn't always work, and if EC might give me a headache or upset stomach, why should I use it?

Think of it this way: seat belts won't always prevent you from getting hurt in a car accident, but it greatly reduces the risk!

If you want to do everything you can to prevent yourself from getting pregnant by accident, you should consider taking EC.

So where can I get EC?

If you're 18 years old, or older, you can get EC from your local pharmacy, assuming that they have it in stock. Some states have even passed laws REQUIRING that women be able to get it at a pharmacy near them. If you're under 18, Planned Parenthood can write you a prescription for EC and may be able to give it to you right there in the office.You can also call your regular doctor or your gynecologist and ask them to prescribe EC for you.In some states, you can also get EC directly from the pharmacist even if you're under 18. If you can't get EC from your nearest pharmacy or need help finding someone who can prescribe EC for you, call the toll free phone number 1-888-NOT-2-LATE.They'll answer all of your questions and put you in touch with someone who can prescribe EC for you.

Can I just use EC as my regular form of birth control?

NO! EC is only meant to be taken in an emergency, that's why it's called emergency contraception.

First of all, birth control-like condoms, pills, an IUD, a diaphragm-are much, much more reliable than EC.Second of all, while EC is safe when taken for an emergency, it's still a very high dose of hormones and we don't yet know how safe it would be of taken over and over and over again.

Plus, would you rather be thinking "I could get pregnant, I'll have to take EC, I'm unprotected" while you're having sex or something else?

Does Emergency Contraception cause an abortion?

According to the American Medical Association's definition of when a pregnancy begins-at implantation-, no, EC does NOT cause an abortion.

Some people believe that a pregnancy begins earlier, when the sperm and egg fertilize.That is an opinion, not a medically proven fact, but if you feel it's true then you should consider those feelings before taking EC.

What's the difference between EC and medication abortion (also known as the abortion pill or RU-486)?

EC can prevent you from getting pregnant.EC CAN NOT terminate an existing pregnancy, one that has already implanted in your uterine lining.

Why bother with EC if I can just take the abortion pill later?

Both EC and medication abortion are extremely safe, but they have different purposes and different effects on your body.

EC prevents pregnancy, while medication abortion terminates pregnancy.


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Emergency Contraception (the Morning-After Pill)