Emergency Contraception

Emergency Contraception

An image of an emergency contraception pill

Emergency Contraception (EC) can stop a pregnancy before it starts. (That means the EC pills are not the same as the abortion pill.) There are four types of EC to choose from and they all work up to 5 days (or 120 hours) after unprotected sex. But use it sooner rather than later to reduce the possibility of getting pregnant.

Types of Emergency Contraceptions

An image of an IUD
Non-hormonal IUD

This is the most effective EC there is. Have a provider insert it within 5 days of a misstep and lower your chance of pregnancy by 99.9%.

An image of emergency contraception pill

The newest form of EC in the U.S. is a one-pill formula available by prescription. Blocks the hormones your body needs to conceive. Works up to 5 days after unprotected sex and, unlike other EC pills, doesn't decrease in effectiveness during those 5 days.

An image of emergency contraception
Levonorgestrel-based pills

Plan B One-Step, Next Choice One Dose, Next Choice, EContra EZ, My Way, After Pill and Levonorgestrel. Available over the counter or online without a prescription. Similar to birth control pills, but at a much higher dose. Can work up to 5 days after unprotected sex, but effectiveness decreases each day.

An image of emergency contraception
Yuzpe Regimen

You can use certain birth control pills as EC if you follow the Yuzpe Regimen guidelines, though it's not as effective as other EC options. Works best up to 3 days following unprotected sex. After that, it’s much less effective.


You had a “whoops” moment with your contraception

If the condom broke,or you forgot to take your pill, insert your ring, apply your patch, or if your diaphragm slipped—anything like that—you may want to use EC.

Withdrawal gone wrong

If you're not sure your partner pulled out in time, that’s another reason you might think about using EC.

You got swept up in the moment

Maybe it was due to the influence of alcohol. Maybe you thought you could go without birth control just this once. Maybe you didn't think about it at all. No matter the reason, if you didn't use any protection during sex and don’t want to get pregnant, EC might be for you—as long as it's been less than five days since that unprotected encounter.

For scary situations

Rape is a horrible thing, but it happens. If you’ve been raped, or if you had sex with someone who refused to use another form of contraception, consider EC.

Keep some on hand

The sooner you take EC, the more effective it is. So it’s not a bad idea to keep a box of one of the EC pill varieties on hand, just in case you need it.

The EC that keeps going

If find yourself in need of EC and want a longer-lasting solution, the ParaGard IUD is the most effective EC option by far and can be inserted up to 5 days after unprotected sex. The best part? You’ll have an easy and super-effective birth control method for up to 12 years.

Don’t take our word for it. Check out the videos above to hear people talk about their experiences with emergency contraception. And be sure to ask your health care provider which method is best for you.

The price of EC can vary a lot depending on where you get it (pharmacy vs. health center) and which type you decide to use. Keep in mind that if you buy over-the-counter EC, it won't necessarily be covered by health insurance.

Prices for Paragard*

BTW, the open enrollment period for 2017 is over, but you may still be able to get health coverage. Find out if you could be eligible for special enrollment.


The full price of Paragard can range from $500 - $932. To see how this translates over a year, here’s what it would cost to pay for Paragard month-to-month at full price.

  • Cost per month over one year: $41 - $77
  • Cost per month over five years: $8 - $15
  • Cost per month over 10 years: $4 - $7

  • Payment assistance: If you don't have insurance, the manufacturer offers payment plans where you can make 4 or 12 monthly payments. Contact the manufacturer at Paragard.com or 1-877-727-2427 to find out more. Also, check with your local family planning clinics to find out if they offer free or low-cost IUDs (many do).

Prices for ella:*

Prices for Plan B One-Step and generic levonorgestrel-based EC pills:*

  • With Medicaid: Free
  • With insurance: Free if you can get a prescription (otherwise see the "without insurance" section).
  • Without insurance: $35 - $49.99 in stores and pharmacies; $21.00 - $49.99 online.

In-store vendors

Levonorgestrel-based EC pills are sold without a prescription at CVS, Target, Walgreens, Walmart, and many other stores and pharmacies. Prices can range from $25 - $39.99.

Online vendors

Tip: If it's not an emergency and you just want to have some EC on hand, you can get EC from AfterPill.com for $25 including standard shipping.

We found Plan B One-Step and some of its generic forms including AfterPill, Take Action, Next Choice, My Way, and EContra EZ for sale through a bunch of different websites:

Plan B One-Step

  • Amazon.com: $31.60 - $38.50

  • CVS.com: $49.99

  • Drugstore.com: $49.99

  • RiteAid.com: $49.99

  • Target.com: $49.99

  • Walgreens.com: $49.99

  • Walmart.com: $46.87


  • AfterPill.com: $25.00

  • Amazon.com: $23.35 - $30.00

EContra EZ

  • PRJKTRUBY.com: $25.00

My Way

  • Amazon.com: $30.50

  • RightAid.com: $39.99

Next Choice

  • Drugstore.com: $39.99

Take Action

  • Amazon.com: $24.70

  • CVS.com: $39.99

  • Drugstore.com: $39.99

  • Target.com: $39.99

  • Walgreens.com: $39.99

  • Walmart.com: $34.78

Note: These prices are averaged—including taxes and standard shipping costs—from a survey of select online vendors as of June 2016. Prices may change over time.

  • Payment assistance: Check with your local family planning clinics to find out if they offer free or low cost EC (most do). Also, manufacturers will sometimes offer money-saving coupons on their websites.

Prices for the Pill (which you should already have on hand for Yuzpe):*

  • This method may be free or low-cost for you
  • With Medicaid: Free
  • With insurance: Free under most plans
  • Without insurance: The full price of the pill can range from $10 - $50 a month. Depending on your income, you may be able to go to a low-cost clinic to get it at reduced cost. BTW, the open enrollment period for 2016 is over, but you may still be able to get coverage. Find out if you could be eligible for special enrollment.
  • Payment assistance: For brand-name pills, contact the manufacturer’s website for information about coupons and discounts. Or contact the Partnership for Prescription Assistance at 1-888-4-PPA-NOW (1-888-477-2669) or www.pparx.org. Also, check with your local family planning clinics and find out if they offer free or low-cost birth control pills (most do).

    * FYI: This info is based on not-2-late.com and our own small survey of birth control manufacturers, vendors, and clinics around the country. Cost may vary.

Emergency Contraception isn’t a method you should rely on all the time—there are much more effective methods out there. But if you have unprotected sex, it’s the quickest and easiest “after-the-fact” option out there. Here are the different types you can choose from.

Copper-T IUD

This is the most effective EC there is. If you get the Paragard IUD inserted within 5 days after unprotected sex, it can lower the chance of pregnancy by 99.9%. You’ll need to make an appointment with a health care provider to have this procedure.


You need a prescription to pick up ella at a local pharmacy. In some states, you can order it from an online pharmacy without getting a prescription first (they handle that for you on their website). There’s no age limit to access ella. Take the one-pill formula within 5 days after unprotected sex.

Levonorgestrel-based pills

Levonorgestrel-based EC pills are available off the shelf at pharmacies and grocery stores to anyone with no age restrictions. That means you should be able to buy Plan B One-Step or generic options like Next Choice One Dose, My Way, and Levonorgestrel without having a prescription or showing your ID. All levonorgestrel-based EC pills work like birth control pills, but at a much higher dose and taken temporarily. Best used as soon as possible, though they can be taken up to 5 days after unprotected sex.

Plan B One-Step, Next Choice One Dose, and My Way consist of just one pill that's to be taken as soon as possible after unprotected sex. (The original Plan B consisted of two pills and is no longer being sold.)

Next Choice and Levonorgestrel are both two-pill formulas. The instructions say to take one pill right away and the second 12 hours later, but research shows you can also take both pills at the same time.

The Yuzpe Regimen

Some everyday birth control pills can be used as EC. If you go that route, which is called the Yuzpe regimen, you’ve got to take the pills in two doses, 12 hours apart. And it only works with certain brands. Here’s an article to help you understand how to use the Yuzpe regimen.


Remember: Use EC as soon as possible after you’ve had unprotected sex. The sooner you take it, the better—within 24-hours to three days is ideal. But EC will still reduce your risk of pregnancy for up to 5 days. (The instructions for Plan B and Next Choice say to take it within 72 hours after sex, but studies show that Plan B One-Step, Next Choice, and Levonorgestrel can be taken up to 5 days after sex.)

Want even more detail? Check out all the information on the Not-2-Late website.

There are positive and negative things to say about each and every method. And everyone's different—so what you experience may not be the same as what your friend experiences.

The Positive

Positive “side effects”? You bet. There are actually lots of things about birth control that are good for your body as well as your sex life.

The Negative

Everyone worries about negative side effects, but for many women, they’re not a problem. And if you do experience side effects with EC, they’ll probably go away after 24 hours.

  • Can cause upset stomach and vomiting
  • Could cause breast tenderness, irregular bleeding, dizziness, and headaches
  • Frequent use can lead to irregular periods
  • Using birth control pills as EC (known as the Yuzpe Method) increases the likelihood of side effects (especially nausea)

*For a very small number of women there are risks of serious side effects.

Do you have questions about Emergency Contraception? Visit Bedsider.org for answers to many of the most popular questions about this method of birth control.
All content from Bedsider.org, a program of Power to Decide.