“Oops you did it again, got lost in my bag, oh birth control pills.” If you’ve been singing that tune lately—or the condom broke, or your vaginal ring fell out, or you’re on antibiotics that mess with the effectiveness of your pills—you may be considering emergency contraception.
Commonly referred to as the morning-after pill, there are actually two types of emergency-contraception pills that delay or inhibit ovulation: the progestin-only morning-after pill, and ulipristal acetate tablets (a mouthful, we know). Your other option is a copper IUD, which prevents sperm from reaching the egg. If you’re already pregnant, none of these methods will affect the pregnancy or trigger an abortion. (The pills aren’t abortion pills.)
To save you a bunch of panicked Googling, here’s what you need to know about EC and how to get it no matter which state you live in.
What’s my timeline?
The morning-after pill works best when you take it within three days of having unprotected sex. The sooner you take it, the better it works. Ulipristal acetate tablets are effective for up to five days afterward. (Worth noting: There’s evidence that morning-after pills have a higher failure rate in women over 175 pounds. But doctors say there’s not enough to suggest you shouldn’t still take it.) And you can get an IUD no more than five days after you’ve had unprotected sex.
Do I need a prescription?
Regardless of how old you are, you don’t need a prescription for the progestin-only morning-after pill, but you do need one for ulipristal acetate. A doctor or nurse will need to insert the IUD.
Does insurance cover EC?
Under the Affordable Care Act, most private health plans must cover all birth control, including EC, as prescribed. And you shouldn’t have a copay, even if you haven’t met your deductible. If you have Medicaid, most states cover at least one form of EC. If you work for a religious employer, you may have to pay out of pocket.
OK, but what if I buy it over-the-counter?
In most states, if you buy the morning-after pill over the counter, you’ll have to pay the retail price, which is between $35 and $60. That doesn’t necessarily mean you need to go to the doctor for free EC, though: In 10 states (Alaska, California, Hawaii, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Vermont and Washington State), pharmacists can prescribe progestin-based pills.
Can the pharmacist refuse to give it to me?
Yes, in a few states (Arizona, Arkansas, Idaho, Georgia, Mississippi and South Dakota). In some of those states, the pharmacist must refer you to another staff member who can help you, or tell you where else you can purchase EC. If he or she refuses to cooperate, ask to speak to someone else. You may need to find another pharmacy or try calling your doctor.
Where exactly can I find it?
You’ll need a doctor or nurse to insert the IUD. You can buy the morning-after pill at pharmacies, in the family-planning aisle of major retailers (think Target and Walmart), online, and at Planned Parenthood. The same goes for ulipristal acetate, but before you can buy it online, you’ll need to go through a free online medical consultation in order to get a prescription.
Can I stock up in advance?
Yes. Though EC pills do have a shelf life, it’s usually years long. If you’re buying them for future use, check the expiration date, and make a note of it on your calendar so you can restock before then if necessary.
Can someone else buy it for me?
There’s no law that says the person purchasing EC over the counter has to be the person who plans on taking it. Anyone can buy it, regardless of their gender or age. Though prescriptions for EC can be issued only to the patient, someone else should be able to pick up the prescription for you.