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What is Emergency Contraception?
Emergency Contraception (EC) is used when someone has unprotected sex, but doesn't want to get pregnant. EC is made of the same ingredients as birth control pills. EC pills are available only through prescription in most states - but in California, Washington and Alaska, you can get EC from a pharmacist over the counter. The pills must be taken within 5 days (120 hours) of having unprotected sex. Even though you have up to five days, the sooner you take EC, the better the chance of preventing pregnancy.
How Does EC work?
EC uses hormones to keep you from getting pregnant. It does this by either stopping ovulation from happening, preventing the egg from implanting in the uterus, or keeping the egg from being fertilized. EC reduces the risk of pregnancy by 75-89%. If you are already pregnant and you take EC it will not hurt your pregnancy. EC does not cause an abortion if you are already pregnant.
Questions and Answers About EC:
Is there a limit to the number of times EC can be used? No. But people who are sexually active should find a reliable birth control method to use before having sex. There are other birth control methods that are more effective than EC, and EC will not protect you from STDs.
Can I get EC without my parents' consent if I'm under 18? Yes. Parents do not have to be contacted for minors to receive contraception.
Do I have to see the doctor to get EC? No. In California you can go to a pharmacy to get EC, even if you're under 18. The pharmacy will have you fill out a simple questionnaire to make sure EC is right for you. To find an EC pharmacy near you, call 1-888-668-2528.
When would people use EC? There are several situations where someone might need EC: in the event of rape or sexual assault; if a birth control method failed (such as a condom broke), or if no method of birth control was used.
Will women stop using other forms of contraceptives if EC become widely available? EC should not be used as a regular form of birth control. There are other forms of birth control that are more reliable, plus EC is expensive and does not protect you from STDs.
Will men be less likely to use condoms if they know about EC? Condoms protect against pregnancy and STDs - EC only protects against pregnancy.
Should women get EC before they need it? EC is more effective the earlier it's used after unprotected sex. Having a pre-filled EC prescription on hand in case of emergencies is the best way to prevent against unintended pregnancies.
Can EC pills cause birth defects? No. Studies show that EC will not cause birth defects. Women who have continued to take birth control pills (which have the same ingredients as EC) while pregnant have not had babies with birth defects.
If a woman has been sexually assaulted or raped are Emergency Room workers required to tell her about EC and to provide it if she wants it? California, Washington and Illinois are the only states that are required to do so.
Visit or for more information about EC and for a list of clinics and pharmacies near you who prescribe EC.