Emergency contraceptive pills: what you should know

By David Joshua Jennings September 5, 12:07 pm
Emergency contraceptives work, when you use them right. Here's what you need to know to do so.
Emergency Contraception Pills (ECPs) cause abortion

ECPs do not cause abortions and have no effect on an already established pregnancy. The hormones in ECPs prevent pregnancy by delaying ovulation, which basically withholds the egg. So the sperm released into the fallopian tubes never meets the egg and thus, no baby. ECPS may also prevent pregnancy by blocking fertilisation or preventing a fertilised egg from attaching to the wall of the uterus.

If a woman is already pregnant when the emergency contraceptive pill is taken, it has no effect whatsoever on the embryo or foetus. ECPs do not harm the pregnancy or cause birth defects. 

ECPs are unsafe

Women have been using ECPs safely since their creation in the 1960s. They work in a similar way as regular birth control pills do, with many containing the same medication. In fact, some women who are unable to take regular birth control pills due to medical reasons can often still take ECPs. However, if you haven’t been advised by your physician to do, it’s better not to use emergency contraceptive pills as birth control pills because the latter are a better and cheaper alternative.

The only real difference between the two (depending on brand) is that regular birth control pills are designed to be taken before intercourse, while ECPs are designed to be taken after intercourse. ECPs are basically just a stronger dose of the hormones used in regular birth control pills.

In short, ECPs are perfectly safe. They do not interact negatively with other drugs and are not addictive, though some women do experience mild side effects for a short period of time after taking them. This may include nausea, diarrhea and/or fatigue.

ECPs can only be taken the 'morning after'

ECPs work more effectively the sooner they’re taken, but they can still be effective up to 120 hours after unprotected sex. The longer you wait, the more likely an unintended pregnancy may result. 

If I take ECPs, I can’t get pregnant until after my next period

ECPs work by blocking ovulation, but only for a few days. Thus if you take them and have unprotected sex again later, you’re still exposed to the risk of an unwanted pregnancy. Sperm can live inside a woman’s fallopian tubes for up to seven days, waiting for ovulation. This is longer than it takes for the ECP to wear off if taken prior to sex. To prevent this, after taking ECPs use other, more reliable contraceptive measures during sex.

If taken too many times, ECPs can affect fertility

There is no evidence that taking ECPs multiple times will affect a woman’s ability to get pregnant in the future. The pills are usually made out of the same hormone, but higher dosage, as regular birth control pills and are gone from the body within a few days.

After taking ECPs, a woman may have heavier or lighter bleeding during her period, and menstruation may come sooner or later than usual, and might be longer or shorter than usual, but the following month things should be back to normal.

In fact, the biggest risk of taking ECPs multiple times is unintended pregnancy, as ECPs are less effective than many other types of birth control. Taking ECPs regularly also tends to be much more expensive than other forms of birth control. But if you ever find yourself in an emergency, rest assured: ECPs are a safe and effective backup plan to prevent unwanted pregnancy.

ECPs encourage unprotected sex and promiscuity

There is no evidence ECPs increase promiscuity and the frequency of unprotected sex. Meanwhile, research studies from around the globe have consistently found that increased access to ECPs does not result in decreased usage of regular contraceptive measures, nor an increase in unprotected sex. One British study of almost 3,000 boys and girls aged 14 to 15 found that teaching teens about ECPs had no effect on their sexual behaviour, or even their use of ECPs. Other studies have shown that most ECP users also use regular birth control, and use ECPs only for emergencies. Among those who weren't already using birth control, one study showed that 90 per cent started using a regular method of birth control after having to take ECPs during an emergency.


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