Emergency Contraception

Quick Facts

Doesn’t reduce your chance of getting an STI

Can prevent pregnancy up to 5 days after unprotected sex

Take as soon as you can

Since it prevents pregnancy, it is birth controlnot an abortion pill

A single pill in blister packaging
A copper IUD

More About Emergency Contraception (EC)

Sometimes accidents happen!

  • Did you have sex and not use birth control?
  • Did the condom break?
  • Did you forget to take a pill?
  • Not sure if your partner pulled out in time?

Emergency Contraception (EC) works by temporarily stopping the ovaries from releasing an egg. The timing of your menstrual cycle and when you take the EC affects how well it will work. The morning-after pill won’t work well if you have started ovulating and had unprotected sex.

There are a few types of EC to choose from.

EC comes in a single or two-pill dose depending on the brand. EC pills work up to 5 full days after unprotected sex. It’s best to take this pill as soon as possible. Some pills get less effective the longer you wait.

The most effective EC method is the copper IUD. It’s 99% effective if you get it within 5 days of unprotected sex. And it works as birth control for up to 10 years. Find out more about the copper IUD.

How to Use Emergency Contraception

EC Pills 

People of any age can get certain types of EC pills over the counter or online, meaning you don’t need a prescription. This kind of pill gets less effective the longer you wait to take it, so take it as soon as you can after unprotected sex.

There’s another type of EC pill that works just as well 5 days after unprotected sex as they do on the first day. They are more effective than the other type of EC pills, especially if 4 or 5 days have gone by. However, you need a prescription to get it.

You might want to get an EC pill and keep it on hand. That way you have it if you ever need it.

Copper IUD

Make an appointment to get a copper IUD placed within 5 days of having unprotected sex. The copper IUD will work just as well 5 days after sex as it does on the first day. But it can be hard to be seen on short notice, so it’s best to make an appointment as soon as you can.

Effectiveness

EC Pills

EC can significantly decrease the chance that you get pregnant by 75-89% if you take it within three days after unprotected sex. You can take EC pills up to five days after unprotected sex, but they work much better if you take it during the first 3 days.

When used as directed, about 7 out of every 8 people who could have gotten pregnant did not become pregnant after taking emergency contraception.

EC pills don’t work as well as other kinds of birth control that you use ahead of time, like IUDs or condoms

For people who weigh more than 174 pounds, EC pills are less effective. Talk to your provider to find out more.

Copper IUD

The copper IUD is more than 99% effective if placed within 5 days of unprotected sex. It is the most effective kind of emergency contraception.

Benefits

Emergency Contraception (EC) Pills

  • It gives you protection after a slip-up.
  • You don’t need a prescription for some types.
  • You or your partner can get them at a pharmacy or online.
  • Your partner doesn’t need to know.

Copper IUD

  • It is the most effective form of emergency contraceptive.
  • It is just as effective after 5 days as on the first day.
  • Your birth control is taken care of for up to 10 years after it is put in.

 

Nine hands holding a thumbs up
A young woman holds up her hands as if weighing options and looks thoughtful

Side Effects and Limitations

Emergency Contraception (EC) Pills

Most side effects go away within 24 hours. Side effects can include:

  • Vomiting
  • Breast tenderness
  • Irregular bleeding
  • Dizziness and headaches
  • Doesn’t reduce your chances of getting a sexually transmitted infection (STI)

Copper IUD

You can read about side effects of the copper IUD here.

Family PACT Coverage

If you are eligible, Family PACT covers the cost of Emergency Contraception. Search for a nearby Family PACT provider: click “Find Providers” in the top right-hand corner of this page.​

California Department of Health Care Services Family PACT logo