Maybe the condom broke and he forgot to tell you. Or maybe you and your partner just forgot to use one, or you missed a dose of your birth control pill. Whatever your reason, it seems that today you need to get your hands on emergency contraception (EC). So which option is best for you? Let’s take a look at the pros and cons of each type.
Levonorgestrel based EC’s have had FDA approval the longest and are usually going to be the easiest to get your hands on. If you are 17 or older they are available over-the-counter, without a prescription at most local pharmacies. If you are younger than that, a prescription can be given by your doctor or at a local family planning clinic. The most well known of this type are PlanB, PlanB One Step, and Next Choice; for the highest levels of effectiveness all 3 are recommended for as soon after unprotected sex as possible. Effectiveness decreases as time goes on and should be used within 72 hours of intercourse.
Last fall, the FDA approved a second type of EC called Ella. Ella’s main ingredient is Ulipristal Acetate. It is currently only available by prescription, but will generally also be available at a local pharmacy or family planning clinic. Ella is effective for up to 120 hours, or five days after unprotected sex and unlike PlanB etc, its effectiveness stays level until that point.
Both types of EC act in a similar manner; they delay ovulation. This is important to preventing pregnancy because sperm can live inside the body for up to 5 days, so if an egg is released during that time there may still be sperm able to fertilize the egg. EC’s also change the consistency of a women’s cervical mucus which makes it harder for sperm to actually get to the egg once ovulation occurs.
EC’s may also change the lining of the uterus, which in theory could prevent a fertilized egg from implanting on the uterine wall. Although no studies have shown this to be a real occurrence, many anti-abortion rights advocates consider EC’s to be abortifacients as opposed to emergency birth control because of it. The first reason this is in accurate is that according to the overall medical community, including the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, pregnancy doesn’t begin until implantation is complete. The second reason is that because EC’s are effective at delaying ovulation to prevent pregnancy it is virtually impossible to tell if they would actually prevent implantation. Just because something is true theoretically doesn’t mean it has any real-life implications
Some things you need to be aware of: pharmacists may choose to not fill a prescription for EC and though technically they are allowed to do this because of conscientious clauses, it can still make obtaining EC more difficult. Also, EC’s should not be used in place of hormonal birth control. It can only be used once during a menstrual cycle meaning once you have taken it, you can still get pregnant until you have your next period. If you need something more long term then that, there are other forms of birth control that may work for you including the pill, IUD’s or even the patch.