Skip to contentNational Women's Law Center

The Quick and Dirty on Emergency Contraception

Should I use emergency contraception (EC)? If you had under-protected sex in the last 120 hours, you should consider using EC (a.k.a. the "morning after pill"). You had under-protected sex when:

  • You didn't use any form of birth control
  • You were late with your regular method (for example, you missed your last pill)
  • The condom broke or came off during sex
  • You were forced to have unprotected sex

If any of these situations applies to you, consider using EC. EC is used after under-protected sex, and is a safe and effective method of birth control that can prevent pregnancy.

Which brand of EC should I use? There are three brands of EC — Plan B One-Step, Next Choice, and Ella — approved to prevent pregnancy after under-protected sex. Depending on the circumstances, one brand may be better for you than another brand. Check out the facts below to see which brand may be best for you:

  • Plan B One-Step or Next Choice
    • Plan B One-Step or Next Choice is effective up to 72 hours (three days) after under-protected sex.
    • Plan B One-Step and Next Choice become less effective the later they are taken. Therefore, the sooner you take either of these brands of EC, the better they work.
    • Women and men age 17 and older can buy Plan B One-Step or Next Choice at a pharmacy without a prescription. This means that the person taking the medication does not have to go to the pharmacy to purchase either of these brands. Rather, any person (for example, a boyfriend) can purchase Plan B One-Step or Next Choice without a prescription as long as he/she is at least 17 years old.
    • Women age 16 and younger still need a prescription from a health care provider to buy Plan B One-Step or Next Choice at a pharmacy.
  • Ella
    • Ella is the newest EC product on the market and is effective up to 120 hours (five days) after under-protected sex.
    • Ella is equally effective at preventing pregnancy regardless of when it is taken during this 120 hour period.
    • For women of all ages, Ella is only available by prescription, but make sure to call your pharmacy ahead of time since not all pharmacies stock it yet. You can also order Ella online at

What’s the bottom line?

If you had under-protected sex in the last 120 hours, it is important to take action as soon as possible. The three brands on the market — Plan B One-Step, Next Choice, and Ella — are all safe and effective methods to prevent pregnancy. It's important to understand your options and take the method that is best for you. If you’d like to learn more about EC, check out our factsheet.


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