July 25, 2022

How Effective are Emergency Contraceptives?

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emergency contraceptives

What is Emergency Contraception?

Emergency contraception (EC) is a form of birth control that reduced the chance of pregnancy after unprotected sex, such as not using a condom or other form of birth control, improperly using your regular birth control, and a condom breaking. According to the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecologists EC prevents pregnancy from occurring, it DOES NOT cause an abortion.

Types of Emergency Contraception

 There are two common types of EC: the copper IUD and EC pills

Copper IUD:

The copper IUD functions as EC because it prevents sperm from fertilizing an egg if inserted with five days of unprotected sex. The copper IUD can serve as long-term birth control for up to 10 years. The ACOG states that  the copper IUD is the most effective form of EC

Emergency contraception pills:

There are three different types of EC pills: ulipristal, progestin-only pills, and combined pills. Some EC pills, such as plan B, can be purchased over the counter, while others require a prescription from a healthcare provider. 

Plan B, or levonorgestrel, is a progestin-only pill that prevents pregnancy by  preventing the release of an egg from the ovary or preventing egg fertilization. It can be taken up to 72 hours after unprotected sex, but is most effective if taken as soon as unprotected sex (NIH). Plan B is less effective if you weigh more than 165 lbs and may not work at all if you weigh more than 195 lbs. If this applies to you, reach out to your healthcare provider  to discuss your options.

Ella, or ulipristal, is a prescription EC pill that can be taken up to 5 days after unprotected sex to prevent pregnancy. Unlike Plan B, Ella is most effective for people who weigh between 155 to 195 lbs. If you are in urgent need of Ella, Planned Parenthood Direct can deliver an overnight dose for $75.

Combined EC, such as ethinyl estradiol plus levonorgestrel, is a less common form of EC used to prevent pregnancy.

Side Effects

According to Mayo Clinic, EC has the following common side effects:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Dizziness
  • Fatigue
  • Headache
  • Breast tenderness
  • Bleeding
  • Irregular periods
  • Abdominal cramps


As of July 1, 2022, over the counter EC, like Plan B, is still available over the counter in all states. 20 states and DC require that hospital Emergency Departments provide EC services to sexual assault victims. However, 9 states now restrict EC use.  If you are interested in keeping up with the latest reproductive health updates, visit Guttmacher Institute for more information. 

GENERAL DISCLAIMER: It’s Fetch is a community that provides a safe space for members to discuss health and wellness topics. We provide access to archived health related content, note the date of last review or update on all articles. No content shared, regardless of date should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other qualified clinician. QUESTIONS: For questions on this article, please contact our team at hello@itsfetch.co.

—Written by Sabrina Park (MPH Candidate USC). Reviewed by Adriana Bakhoum MPH

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  1. ItsFetch says:

    Really enjoyed reading this article, super helpful.! 🙂

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