NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia
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Emergency Contraception

Emergencies and accidents happen – even when it comes to using contraception. That's why emergency contraception (EC) is so important. EC is birth control for situations when regular birth control methods fail or are not used, and it works after sex. You may also know it as the "morning-after pill" or by names such as Plan B, Next Choice, or the generic drug name levonorgestrel. Brands like Next Choice One Dose™ and My Way can be purchased from pharmacies without a prescription by people ages 17 or older and with a prescription for those 16 and younger, and one brand (Plan B One-Step®) is now available over-the-counter for people of all ages without ID.

Emergency contraception has great potential to help reduce unintended pregnancies, but it is not used as often as it could be and many women don't know about it. We believe it's critical that more women have accurate information and better access to EC to help prevent pregnancy after contraceptive failure (such as when a condom breaks or a regular birth control pill is missed), or in cases of sexual assault. However, many anti-choice groups and politicians are opposed to emergency contraception. They are working to obstruct public health efforts to make EC easier to access, and they often spread misinformation about what EC is and what its availability means for women.

Educate yourself, share information, and join NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia in working to support public policies that make EC available to all women who need it. Here are the facts:

  • Emergency contraception works by preventing ovulation or fertilization, reducing the chances of becoming pregnant. If you are already pregnant, taking EC will not affect the pregnancy or the embryo's development. It is a back-up method and not a replacement for regular, proper usage of primary contraception methods.
  • EC brands like Plan B One-Step®, Next Choice One Dose™and My Way contain a higher dose of similar ingredients to daily hormonal birth control pills. (ella® is slightly different, and is only available by prescription.)
  • It is not an "abortion pill" or the same thing as a medical abortion (mifepristone/RU-486). Many anti-choice groups often lie about how EC works and intentionally try to confuse it with medical abortion. This has led to misunderstanding among some women, and even among some medical professionals. Get the facts on the distinctions and how these different medications work (via the Association of Reproductive Health Professionals), and share this knowledge.
  • EC has a better chance of preventing pregnancy the sooner you take it after unprotected sex. However, you can take it up to three to five days afterward, depending on which kind you are using.
  • Know your rights in obtaining emergency contraception from the pharmacy! See this chart from the Reproductive Health Technologies Project for a breakdown of the different types and how they can be obtained. You can buy most kinds of EC without a prescription ("over-the-counter") from a pharmacy counter if you are 17 or older and can show proof of age. (That goes for men 17 or older too, who can be the ones to purchase the medication for a wife, girlfriend or friend!) As of August 2013, the Plan B One-Step® brand should now be available on store shelves for purchase by people without ID for proof of age.

NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia's Emergency Contraception Access Investigation

NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia advocates for policies that make emergency contraception easier to obtain for women who need it, such as ensuring that emergency rooms offer EC to survivors of sexual assault and making EC available and affordable for low-income women. We also work to educate women about their rights in obtaining EC and to ensure that current policies are understood and being followed by medical professionals such as pharmacists.

During summer 2010, NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia volunteers, interns and staff called almost 700 pharmacies throughout Virginia to see if they had EC in stock and if they were knowledgeable about how it works and who can legally obtain it. Color us surprised when we learned not every pharmacy stocked emergency contraception... or even provided medically-accurate information about EC when asked! (Read more about our calling investigation in a blog post here.) Other studies by medical researchers have had similar findings: pharmacy customers, especially adolescents, are getting inaccurate information about emergency contraception far more often than they should.

The lesson we learned is that it is always best to call ahead to make sure a pharmacy has emergency contraception in stock and that someone working will sell it to you. (If your local pharmacy doesn't sell EC, ask them why and encourage them to make it available!) It's also important to understand the facts yourself about EC and be confident about your rights in obtaining it.

We put together this handy map with the results of our study. Please note that each pharmacy was only called once, so we can not know for sure what employees at other times would say or how their policies may have changed. If you have updated information or your own experiences with the pharmacies on the map, or ones that we have not included, please contact us at!

Some online resources about Emergency Contraception:

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