Emergency contraception (EC), also known as postcoital contraception or “the morning after pill” refers to contraceptive methods women can use to prevent pregnancy after unprotected sexual intercourse. Access to EC is essential for ensuring women’s reproductive health.
Currently, there are four types of EC methods available in Europe:
- Levonorgestrel-only EC pills (LNG ECPs)
- EC pills containing ulipristal acetate (UPA ECPs)
- EC pills containing mifepristone
- Copper intrauterine devices (Cu-IUDs) inserted up to five days after intercourse.
Additionally, in settings where there are no EC products available, combined oral contraceptive pills containing both progestin and estrogen can be used as emergency contraception (the “Yuzpe” regimen).
EC can reduce the risk of pregnancy following an act of unprotected intercourse by between 75 and 99 percent, depending on the method used. Insertion of a copper IUD is the most effective EC method, followed by EC pills containing ulipristal acetate and mifepristone. Levonorgestrel-only EC pills reduce the risk of pregnancy by at least half and possibly by as much as 80 to 90 percent following an act of unprotected intercourse.
What You Should Know
- EC pills are safe. Please see the WHO fact sheet (in English, French, and Spanish) for more information on the safety of levonorgestrel-alone EC pills.
- EC pills are more effective the sooner they are taken. UPA EC pills and the Cu-IUDs are effective at preventing pregnancy up to 5 days after an act of unprotected intercourse. LNG EC pills are effectiveup to 3 days.
- EC pills are not meant to be used as a regular form of contraception and should not replace the use of regular contraceptive methods. Additionally, EC does not prevent against HIV or other sexually transmitted infections.
- EC is meant to be used in cases of unprotected intercourse or in situations in which problems with regular contraceptive methods have occurred, such as when a condom breaks or a dose of oral contraceptive pills is skipped.
- The primary mechanism of action of EC pills is through the disruption of ovulation. See the International Consortium for Emergency Contraception’s fact sheet of 2013 in English, French, Spanish, or German) for more information on how levonorgestrel-alone emergency contraceptive pills prevent pregnancy.
- EC pills will not disrupt an existing pregnancy. Please see the International Consortium for Emergency Contraception fact sheet (in English, French or Spanish) for more information on the important differences between EC and medical abortion.
Please visit the following sites for additional information on EC: