Emergency Contraception

What is emergency contraception?

Emergency contraceptives are methods of preventing pregnancy after unprotected sexual intercourse.  Emergency contraception is provided in two ways: using hormonal contraceptive pills or inserting a copper-releasing IUD (intrauterine device).

  • Emergency Contraceptive Pills (ECPs) contain hormones that reduce the risk of pregnancy when started within 120 hours (five days) of unprotected intercourse.
  • An IUD can be inserted to prevent pregnancy up to seven days after unprotected intercourse.


When should someone use emergency contraception?

Emergency contraception can be used when a condom breaks, after a sexual assault, or any time unprotected sexual intercourse occurs.  Do not use emergency contraceptives as your only protection against pregnancy if you are sexually active or planning to be, because they are not as effective as any ongoing contraceptive method.  Emergency contraception does not protect against sexually transmitted diseases.


How does emergency contraception work?

Depending on the time during the menstrual cycle that they are taken, emergency contraception pills may inhibit or delay ovulation, inhibit tubal transport of the egg or sperm, interfere with fertilization, or alter the lining of the uterus, thereby inhibiting implantation of a fertilized egg. The copper in copper-T IUDs can prevent sperm from fertilizing an egg and can also alter the lining of the uterus, thereby inhibiting implantation of a fertilized egg.


Does use of emergency contraception cause an abortion?

Emergency contraception reduces the risk of pregnancy and is not a form of abortion. Emergency contraception cannot end a pregnancy and are not effective if a woman is pregnant.


Where can I get emergency contraceptives?

A prescription is needed to get emergency contraceptives.  However, in some states, emergency contraceptive pills are provided through statewide hotlines that offer emergency contraception prescriptions over the phone (Maryland’s hotline is 1-887-99-GO-4-EC) or online.  A few states have passed laws that allow women to get emergency contraception directly from pharmacists.


Where can I get more information about emergency contraception?

1-800-NOT-2-LATE is a national hotline that is available 24 hours a day to give people information about emergency contraception. The hotline is confidential, and is available in both English and Spanish   Some helpful websites are:

www.plannedparenthood.org and http://ec.princeton.edu