What is Emergency Contraception?

Often referred to as the “morning-after pill,” it is a high dose of certain types of the birth control pill, made up of estrogen and progestin or progestin only.

In 2013, the FDA lifted the age limit on emergency contraception, which can now be obtained over-the-counter without a prescription. This form of birth control is sometimes used in the event of unprotected sexual intercourse, in cases of sexual assault and rape, or if another type of birth control has failed.

How Does the Morning After Pill Work?

Emergency contraception works through high doses of the synthetic hormones of estrogen and progestin, or progestin only, which help regulate ovulation and fertility similar to the way in which the natural forms of these hormones work. It may prevent pregnancy through one or more of these three methods:

  • First, it prevents or reduces the probability of an egg being released from the ovaries.
  • Second, it thickens the cervical mucus, decreasing the chance of the sperm reaching and fertilizing the egg.
  • Third, it changes the lining of the uterus, decreasing the probability of implantation. Click here to learn more about the ethical implications of this third method.

The first dose of pills is taken as soon as possible (within 72 hours), followed by another dose 12 hours later.

How Effective is the Process?

Emergency contraception decreases the possibility of pregnancy by 75-89% depending on the type of medication taken. This method is most effective the earlier it is taken.
The morning after pill is not as effective as other forms of birth control and should not be used as a replacement for other methods.

What are the Side Effects or Health Risks of Emergency Contraception?

It has side effects similar to those experienced by users of oral or other hormonal types of contraception which include:

Emergency contraception may affect your next menstrual cycle by making it earlier or later or causing blood flow to be different than normal. Emergency contraception is not recommended for women who are already pregnant.
You should take a pregnancy test if you are experiencing any pregnancy symptoms. Although research is limited, studies have not shown that harm would be done to the fetus if this method fails.

How Much Does Emergency Contraception Cost?

There is no longer an age limit on the morning after pill, which is now available over-the-counter without a prescription. Prices generally range from $30-$60 or more.

What About Emergency Contraception and Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs)?

Emergency Contraception does NOT provide protection against the transmission of sexually transmitted diseases.

Want to Know More?

Compiled using information from the following sources:

1. Danforth’s Obstetrics and Gynecology Ninth Ed. Scott, James R., et al, Ch. 30.

2. Office on Women’s Health


3. U.S. Food and Drug Administration


4. William’s Obstetrics Twenty-Second Ed. Cunningham, F. Gary, et al, Ch. 32.