Emergency contraception can be used by a woman if she’s not used contraception when having sex, or if the contraception she used has failed – for example, a condom has split or she has missed a pill – and she does not want to get pregnant.
There are three types of emergency contraception: the emergency intrauterine device (IUD) and two types of emergency contraceptive pill (sometimes called the ‘morning after pill’ although they can be used effectively several days after sex).
Emergency contraception is not a form of abortion.
A copper IUD can be used as emergency contraception up to 120 hours (five days) after unprotected sex (sometimes even longer), as long as you’re certain that you’re not already pregnant.
An emergency IUD will prevent 99% of pregnancies.
It needs to be fitted by a specially trained nurse or doctor. They will need to ask some questions first to decide whether it’s safe to use this method of emergency contraception.
The IUD is suitable for women taking HIV treatment as it doesn’t contain any hormones.
Emergency contraceptive pills
For further info on contraceptive methods, check the following:
Advantages of emergency contraception
The emergency contraceptive pill is easy to take, can be taken by most women and is quite easy to get hold of because it can be prescribed for free by any doctor and many nurses.
It does not have any long-term side effects and is very safe.
There are no known effects on babies born to women who have taken emergency contraception which failed, and who have then gone ahead with the pregnancy.
The emergency IUD can be left in place as a permanent method of contraception for 5 to 10 years, depending on what kind of coil is used.
Disadvantages of emergency contraception
It’s not as effective as regular contraception. Taking it doesn’t guarantee that you won’t get pregnant.
It doesn’t provide any protection against sexually transmitted infections, including HIV.
Taking the pill may cause some irregular bleeding or disrupt the periods, causing them to come earlier or later than expected. This is more likely to happen when it’s taken more than once.
The IUD needs to be inserted by a specially trained doctor or nurse and so is not easily accessible.
It can be painful when it’s put in and there’s a small chance of developing an infection.
Where to get it
Emergency contraceptive pills are available free from GPs, some genitourinary medicine (GUM) clinics, NHS minor injuries units, hospital emergency departments and pharmacies (the cost of which for two pills ranges from 9-25 euros).
You can buy an emergency contraceptive pill from pharmacies if you are over 16.
Pills can be bought online before you need them. It’s a good idea to get advice from a doctor or nurse about getting advanced emergency contraception.
Who can use emergency contraception?
Any woman, girl, non-binary or transgender person of reproductive age may need emergency contraception to avoid an unwanted pregnancy. There are no absolute medical contraindications to the use of emergency contraception. There are no age limits for the use of emergency contraception.
Things to bear in mind
Taking the emergency contraceptive pill does not provide you with protection if you have any more unprotected sex afterwards.
It’s not something you should use in place of regular contraception because it’s not as effective in preventing pregnancy.