Emergency contraceptives, or morning-after pills, can prevent pregnancy if taken within 120 hours after unprotected sex. The pills are a concentrated form of birth control, and until recently contained high doses of estrogen. Studies have now shown that another hormone, levonorgestrel, is just as effective and produces none of the negative side effects of estrogen. Levonorgestrel is now used in the morning-after pill called Plan B. Research has proved that Plan B is as effective as other emergency contraceptive pills.
"I'm a proponent of Plan B because by not having the estrogen, there are fewer side effects," says John Griffith, pharmacy manager at Albertson's on 37th. "With other emergency contraceptives, we've had to also prescribe medication for nausea."
Morning-after pills have become increasingly available in many states, but they are often mistaken for abortion pills, or RU486. Emergency contraceptives are not the same as an abortion pill. If you are already pregnant, the morning-after pill will have no effect.
"I'm a supporter of Planned Parenthood, and I'd like to minimize abortions as much as possible," Griffith says. "If we can't do that completely through responsible plan A behavior, it's a good thing plan B is available." Plan B is 75 percent successful in preventing pregnancy within 120 hours of unprotected sex.
None of the emergency contraceptives protect against sexually transmitted diseases, and they should never be used in place of regular contraception.
Plan B should be used only in emergencies, such as when regular methods of contraception may have failed or in cases of rape.
In Washington State, you can get emergency contraception from a specially trained pharmacist without visiting a physician or a clinic first. These pharmacies participate in a special state program known as the Collaborative Drug Therapy Program. The program is supported by a coalition of health agencies, health providers and pharmacists. Under the program, specially trained pharmacists provide 24-hour, seven-day-a-week access to emergency contraception without a prescription through more than 150 local pharmacies. The pharmacist provides a medical assessment directly and will dispense emergency contraceptives on the spot.
The cost in Washington State is $40. This includes a brief counseling session and a follow-up from the pharmacy. Planned Parenthood provides the same pill for $25.
The laws in Idaho prevent emergency contraceptives from being distributed in pharmacies without a prescription. However, it is possible to get a prescription for Plan B online at www.getthepill.com, www.themorningafterpill.net or www.go2planB.com.