Emergency Contraception

What is EC and how does it work?

Emergency Contraception (EC), also known as the morning after pill, is birth control that can be taken after unprotected sex in order to prevent pregnancy. EC prevents pregnancy by stopping ovulation, fertilization, or, possibly, implantation. The hormones in EC temporarily disrupt hormone production in the ovaries. This will delay ovulation if it has not already occurred and will make the uterine lining unsuitable for implantation of an egg if fertilization has occurred.

EC will not affect an existing pregnancy and it will not cause an abortion. EC is not the same as RU-486 (Mifepristone), the early option pill that is given to induce a medical abortion after a person is already pregnant.

EC is most commonly available as a progestin-only medication known as "Plan B One Step". "Plan B One Step" packages include 1 pill which should be taken right away.

EC works best when the first dose is taken within 72 hours after unprotected sex, and have shown to be effective when taken up to 120 hours. The effectiveness of EC increases the sooner it is taken. If it has been more than 120 hours since you've had unprotected sex, call your medical provider for advice. Brown students can call Health Services at 401-863-1330. 

Why would I want to use EC?

EC can help to prevent pregnancy after sex in circumstances such as these::

  • The condom broke or slipped off

  • You forgot to take birth control pills in your current cycle

  • Your diaphragm or cervical cap slipped out of place

  • Your partner didn't pull out in time or used the withdrawal method

  • You weren't using any birth control

  • You were forced to have unprotected vaginal sex

  • You are unsure or unable to remember if protection was used 

How effective is EC in preventing pregnancy?

EC is effective if taken within 120 hours of unprotected sex. The sooner you take the pills the better your chance of preventing pregnancy. There are two types of EC: the progestin-only EC and the combined EC.

Progestin-only EC, such as "Plan B," has a higher effectiveness rate than the combination pills at 89%. Plan B is the most commonly available brand of EC. Combined EC, such as "Preven," has a combination of two hormones: progestin and estrogen -- the same hormones that are found in birth control pills. The combined hormone EC pills have a 75% effectiveness rate.


Will I experience any side effects after taking EC?

For the progestin-only EC side effects like nausea are less common side effects than with combination EC (Preven). For the combined pill, nausea is the most common side effect and vomiting is a less common side effect. If you vomit within the first two hours of taking EC, the dose will have to be repeated. If you are particularly prone to nausea, speak with your medical provider and they may give you extra pills and an anti-nausea medication, like Dramamine, along with the EC dose in order to prevent this side effect. Taking EC with food sometimes helps as well.

Besides nausea and vomiting, for either EC medication type, you may also experience breast tenderness, irregular bleeding, fluid retention, dizziness, and/or headaches. These side effects subside within a day or two after taking the pills. 

When will my next period occur?

Taking EC may alter the timing of the your next period. Menstrual bleeding may begin a few days earlier or a few days later than would have been expected. If menstrual bleeding does not begin within 3 weeks after taking EC, contact your medical provider to discuss pregnancy testing or alternative reasons for not beginning a period. 

What happens if I use EC more than once?

It is not dangerous to take EC repeatedly. However, we don't recommend that you use EC as a regular form of birth control because it is not as effective as using other contraceptive methods consistently. If you do not want to become pregnant, you should talk with your medical provider about a regular contraceptive method that would work for you. Brown students can make an appointment at Health Services by calling 401.963-3953. 

Where and how do I get EC?

If you are a Brown student, you can go directly to the Health Services Pharmacy to purchase EC for a cost of $30 (plus tax). (This is a discounted price as compared to drugstores and other locations where the cost will be closer to $50). No ID is required to purchase EC.

If you have Brown's student health insurance (SHIP), you can probably get the cost of your EC covered in full. If you have other insurance, you may be able to get reimbursed. When you get your EC at the pharmacy, we will give you the information you need to submit to your insurance company for reimbursement.

Resources off-campus:
EC is available at local pharmacies, health care clinics or a hospital emergency department. The closest pharmacy to campus is the CVS on Wayland Square (481 Angell Street, 401.521-4340) and the nearest clinic is Planned Parenthood (111 Point Street, 401.421-9620). You can also check online or in the Providence phone book for phone numbers and addresses of other local pharmacies or health care facilities.

If you are away from the Providence area, or if you want more information about EC:
You can get the name of the EC providers nearest you by calling the emergency contraception hotline: 1-800-NOT-2-LATE or looking them up on the website. You can also call 1-800-230-PLAN to find the Planned Parenthood Health Center nearest you, or look up the nearest clinic on their website. EC is also available at public health centers, private doctors, and hospital emergency rooms. 

Can I get EC in advance?

Yes! If you are going on an extended trip or you are worried about your contraceptive method failing and you would like to have EC on hand just in case, you can purchase EC in advance. Because it is available without a prescription, you can get EC at any time.

Related Links

For more information about EC, you can visit:

Planned Parenthood

  • 401.863-2794
    Health Promotion
  • 401.863-3953
    Health Services
  • 401.863-6000
    Sexual Assault Response Line
  • 401.863-4111
  • 401.863-3476
    Counseling & Psychological Services
  • 401.863-4111