Birth Control and Emergency Contraception

Choosing the birth control method that's right for you

Bedsider.org helps people find the method of birth control that's right for them and learn how to use it consistently and effectively. Bedsider is a research based non-profit, non-partisan organization operated by Power to Decide.

Bedsider information is also available in Spanish at Bedsider Espanol. It offers tools, materials, research, and provider articles at Bedsider Providers.

Worried about cost?

All insurance plans offered through the Washington Health Benefit Exchange must cover contraceptives — including emergency contraceptives — at no cost to you (even if you haven't met your deductible).

Apple Health (Medicaid) and Washington's Family Planning Only program also cover contraceptives at no cost to you. Both also offer other family planning services. If you are not eligible for Apple Health you might be eligible for Family Planning Only (for instance there are no citizenship requirements for Family Planning Only.)

You can apply for Apple Health or sign up for a Health Benefit Exchange plan through the Washington Health Plan Finder. If you don't qualify for Apple Health, the application checks to see if you can get a subsidy to help pay for your Health Benefit Exchange plan.

If this is not an option for you, contact one of the clinics we fund. They offer contraceptives — including emergency contraceptives — on a sliding-fee scale.

Emergency contraception—dealing with the unexpected

Emergency contraception can prevent pregnancy after unprotected sex. It can stop a pregnancy before it starts.

  • All four types of emergency contraception work up to five days (120 hours) after unprotected sex.
  • You can get emergency contraceptive pills to have on hand in case you need them at a later time

Types of emergency contraception

There are four types of safe and effective emergency contraception. They are listed below by effectiveness:

  1. Paragard, often called the Copper T, is an intrauterine device (IUD) that some people use for regular birth control.
    • Must be inserted by a trained healthcare provider
    • Can prevent pregnancy up to five days after sex
    • Is the most effective emergency contraception there is
    • Remains highly effective regardless of your weight, unlike other types
    • Can be kept in place to prevent pregnancy for up to 10 years. (You can have it removed by your health care provider at any time. Your ability to become pregnant returns as soon as it is removed.)
  2. ella or ellaOne is a pill that blocks the hormones your body needs to conceive.
    • Available by prescription.
    • Can prevent pregnancy up to five days after sex
    • Works as well on day five as it does on day one
    • May work less well if you weigh 195 pounds or more.
    • If you need emergency contraception because you made a mistake with your birth control pills, patch, ring, or shot, ella might not work as well as Plan B or generics. (The hormones in your birth control methods can affect how well ella works.)
  3. Plan B One-Step, Next Choice One Dose, Next Choice, EContra EZ, My Way, After Pill, and other generics are similar to birth control pills, but at a much higher dose. These are the easiest emergency contraceptives to get.
    • Available to people of all genders without a prescription and without age restrictions and are carried at most pharmacies. (Usually in the family planning aisle.)
    • Also available online and at clinics and doctor's officesCan prevent pregnancy up to five days after sex
    • Effectiveness decreases each day—does not work as well on day five as it does on day one
    • May work less well if you weigh 155 pounds or more
  4. The Yuzpe method uses regular birth control pills taken in a specific way as emergency contraception.
    • Only works with certain brands of birth control pills
    • Is not as effective as other methods of emergency contraception.
    • Works best up to three days (72 hours) after sex. After that it is much less effective.
    • Talk to your health care provider or see Bedsider.org for information on the brands that work and the combination of pills for each.

Emergency contraception myths and misunderstandings

Emergency contraception is

  • NOT the same as the abortion pill (mifeprestone/misoprostol)
  • NOT capable of preventing an established pregnancy
  • NOT capable of harming a developing fetus
  • NOT capable of affecting your ability to become pregnant in the future
  • NOT protection against sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV/AIDS

Additional Resources about emergency contraception

Bedsider.org offers additional information about the realities behind common emergency contraception myths and Planned Parenthood offers a tool to help you choose which kind of emergency contraception to use.

Where to get emergency contraception

Emergency contraception is widely available. Plan B and the other brands described in #3 above are all available without a prescription both at pharmacies and online.

Other types of emergency contraceptive pills need a prescription which you can get at any of the clinics we fund or from many other health care providers.

The Paragard IUD is available from health care providers who have appropriate training, including at the clinics we fund.

You can also enter your zipcode into Bedsider's where to get it tool to find emergency contraception.

If you have been sexually assaulted, information and emergency contraceptive pills are available at all hospital emergency rooms in Washington State as required by WAC 246-320-286.

Remember birth control in natural disasters and other emergencies

It is important that you have birth control available wherever you are. Consider having emergency contraception pills (sometimes called Plan B or the morning after pill) and condoms in your purse and in your emergency preparedness kit. You never know when a natural disaster or other emergency might strike. However, if your device is due to be replaced in the timeframe of the emergency, be prepared to use a back-up method like condoms.

More information on preparing for natural disasters and other emergencies is on the emergency preparedness Be Prepared, Be Safe and sexual and reproductive health Think About Birth Control and STD Prevention When Preparing for Natural Disasters and Other Emergencies webpages.

While you're thinking about birth control, also consider protecting yourself from cancers caused by HPV

The HPV vaccine (Gardisil 9) helps protect individuals ages 9 to 45 against nine types of Human Papillomavirus (HPV). It is still important for people to get routine cervical cancer screening later in life as the vaccine may not fully protect everyone.

The Washington State Department of Health provides more information about immunizations and vaccine-preventable diseases, including access to your immunization information.

Department of Health links

Sexually Transmitted Disease and HIV/AIDS

Teen and Young Adult Health

Sexual Abuse and Domestic Violence

Additional Resources

Free or Low-cost Health Care Plans (Medicaid and other coverage)

Insurance available through Washington's Health Benefit Exchange

Reproductive and Sexual Health Information from Bedsider.org

Contact

Cynthia.Harris@doh.wa.gov
Sexual and Reproductive Health Program Manager
360-236-3401