Health Topics

Emergency Contraception

Emergency Contraception is birth control you can use to prevent pregnancy up to five days (120 hours) after sex. It may be needed if you weren’t using birth control when you had penile-vaginal sex, you forgot to take your birth control, your partner’s condom slipped off or broke, your partner didn’t pull out in time, or you were forced to have unprotected penile-vaginal sex. It is also known as the “morning after pill.”

Options for Emergency Contraception


EC Pills are not as effective as regular birth control.

No form of EC protects against Sexually Transmitted Infections. Contact your provider for testing information.


+ Pros: Nearly 100% effective at preventing pregnancy when placed within 5 days after unprotected sex; it is the most effective form of emergency contraception available. Can prevent future pregnancies for up to 10 years or longer (can be removed any time for quick return to fertility). This method includes non-hormonal options and some studies have shown that an IUD may reduce risk of endometrial cancer. Insurance may cover all or some of the cost.

- Cons: Must be inserted into the uterus by a medical provider. If your insurance does not cover all of it, the IUD and insertion may be expensive. Possible heavier and longer periods and/or more cramping. No protection against STIs. Can be removed after 1 month.

How it works: The IUD’s precise mechanism is not known; likely several factors are involved. The copper ions appear to impair sperm and ova function as well as prevent fertilization.

Progestin Pill (Plan B one-step®, Next choice one dose ®, Aftera®, EContra EZ®)

  • Pros: Can be used up to 5 days (120 hours) after unprotected sex but may be less effective as time passes. Easy to access - anyone can obtain without a prescription at pharmacies, including Campus Health Pharmacy and Student Stores Pharmacy. Can be obtained before you might need it in case of emergencies.
  • Cons: May cause your next period to be 1-2 days earlier or later than you expect and be heavier or lighter. Frequent use may cause periods to become irregular. May cause nausea (take pills with food to reduce this effect. If you throw up within 2 hours of taking the pill, notify your provider). Less effective if you weigh over 165 lbs or BMI of 26 kg/m2 or greater.

How it works: These pills contain progestin, which prevents pregnancy by delaying ovulation.

Ulipristal (ella®)

  • Pros: FDA approved for use up to 5 days (120 hours) after unprotected sex. Insurance may cover all or some of the cost of ulipristal like it would any other prescription. Can be obtained with a prescription in case you need it in the future.
  • Cons: Requires a prescription from a provider or pharmacist. The most common side effects include nausea, menstrual cramps or headaches. Ulipristal may temporarily reduce the effectiveness of other hormonal contraceptive methods. Use a backup method of birth control (like condoms) for 2 weeks. Ulipristal may be less effective in women who weigh more than 196 lbs or with a Body Mass Index of 35 kg/m2 or greater.

How it works: Ulipristal suppresses progesterone, delaying ovulation for up to 5 days.

Emergency Contraception FAQ

COST: How much does emergency contraception cost?

The cost depends on the method and place you buy it. Typical costs:

  • Progestin pill (Plan B and generics): Approximately $10-$50
  • Ulipristal (ella): Approximately $40-$70, often covered by insurance with a minimal or $0 copay.
  • IUD - contact your insurance company for copay info. If your insurance does not cover the IUD, it may be fairly expensive up front (approximately $1000), but more cost effective over time since it can provide ongoing birth control for up to 10 years.

ACCESS: Where can I get Emergency Contraception?

At UNC, you can go directly to the Campus Health Pharmacy or Student Stores Pharmacy to get EC pills without an appointment or prescription. EC pills are also available for extended hours including evenings and weekends in the Healthy Heels to Go vending machines located in the Union Art Gallery entrance and Rams Head Recreation entrance vestibules.

To be evaluated for an IUD as EC call Campus Health as soon as possible at 919.966.2281.

Can I use emergency contraception instead of regular birth control?

Emergency Contraception pills should not be used as an ongoing regular birth control method. They are not nearly as effective and can also be very expensive. An IUD, however, can be inserted for Emergency Contraception purposes and left in for ongoing contraception.

What is the difference between emergency contraception and the abortion pill?

Emergency contraception methods do not cause abortions. All EC methods work to prevent ovulation, fertilization, or implantation. If a woman is already pregnant, meaning that a fertilized egg has implanted in the uterus, emergency contraception will not work. Emergency contraception is not the same as mifepristone (RU-486), a pill used for medical abortion.

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