10 common Myths, Misunderstandings and Big Ol' Lies About Emergency Contraception
It's amazing that with something as safe, simple, affordable and revolutionary as emergency contraception it STILL isn't being used by millions of women who could use it, and who would prefer not to become pregnant. In part, that's because so many doctors and clinics still do not inform and educate their patients about EC, but there's also a lot of misinformation out there around EC which confuses women (sometimes quite intentionally). Here's some EC clarity, on the house. Pass it on!
1) The morning after pill is the same as abortion, and I'm pro-life. Well... 'cept for the part where it's not the same as abortion.
Emergency contraception CANNOT work if conception has already occurred: pregnancy is not instant, it takes some time, and that's why after 120 hours, EC is unlikely to work. EC works by preventing pregnancy, right from the start -- by keeping an egg from being released and/or changing the environ of the vagina to make it tougher for sperm to move -- not by terminating an existing pregnancy. No doctor could tell you you were pregnant within a few days of a risk, because conception takes longer that that to occur. And if you can't be pregnant that early, you can't very well have an abortion that early, now can you? Emergency contraception is not abortion: it cannot terminate an existing pregnancy.
However, if your pro-life stance ALSO includes other birth control methods, then yes, EC will fall under that umbrella, as it is a method of birth control. If your beliefs go that way, then it is likely best for you only to have kinds of sex which can present risks of pregnancy when you do want to become pregnant. In the case that you were sexually assaulted and did not have a choice in this risk, you'll have to consider what's best for you with your beliefs.
2) It's difficult to get. In most areas of the western world, it's not difficult to get and in most of the world as a whole at this point, some form of EC can be obtained. In the United States, people of any age can obtain Plan B one-Step over-the-counter at any pharmacy. Other brands of emergency contraception are currently not available to people under seventeen, and identification must be shown to prove one's age. It remains more difficult in most areas of the world to obtain abortion and good prenatal/maternal care than it does to access emergency contraception, something to bear in mind if you're thinking of blowing off using EC because it just seems too hard to arrange.
Click here for information on where to obtain EC and for a list of emergency contraceptives available internationally.
If you live in an area where you are being refused EC by your doctor, pharmacist or clinic, make some phone calls. While one provider may refuse (despite it being ethically questionable to do so, no matter their personal feelings about EC), there are almost always others nearby who will gladly furnish you with EC.
Don't have a car? Me either. But I have a bike. I have a bus system. I have taxis. I have friends with cars. I have feet. All that given, I can get myself almost anywhere, both in daily life and certainly in crisis situations. So, call a friend. If the sex you had was consensual, call the partner who is at least half responsible for your need for EC. Look up your bus routes. Walk or use your bike.
If you found a means of transport, or your partner did, to have sex, you can probably put your heads together to find one to get EC when you need it.
If you have no other transportation resource besides your parents and they are not aware you are sexually active or have had a pregnancy risk, it might be time to consider telling them so you can get EC, rather than having to tell them when you are either seeking out an abortion or planning to bring a pregnancy to term and then parent or put a child up for adoption. Unless you know or suspect disclosure will put your physical safety in danger, scary as it seems to tell your folks about stuff like this, these things DO blow over in time and going through a pregnancy alone is a whole lot scarier, riskier and more difficult to deal with.
3) It's not legal for me to take it at my age, and I can't get my parents permission. It is not illegal in most areas for a minor to obtain and use emergency contraception, or necessary for a minor to require parental consent for EC. If your provider tells you they need parental consent, they are not likely basing that on law, but personal preference. Should that happen, find a different provider to obtain EC.
Depending on where in the world you live, you may not be able to get EC unless you have a prescription for it -- rather than being able to get it over-the-counter -- but that is not about it being illegal for you to take it, but about it being illegal for someone to dispense it to you without a prescription.
4) I was raped, but no one offered it to me, so I assumed it wouldn't work for me. If it was LESS than 120 hours since your assault when you reported it, you absolutely SHOULD have been offered EC and counseled about it as an option. Some states have now thankfully added laws to require that rape victims be offered EC.
If it is still within that window and you were not, call the rape counselor, doctor or clinic you were assigned when you reported, or call back the police station or officer you went to and ask for an immediate EC referral.
If you do not want to or did not report or go to a hospital after your assault, you can obtain EC either over-the-counter or via a doctor or clinic, and do not need to disclose your rape.
5) It's too expensive. Birth control -- unfortunately -- is often expensive. For that matter, partnered sex is expensive if you're going to engage in it with even a little responsibility and safety. Good condoms cost around $2 each. A month's worth of birth control pills is between $15 and $50. EC costs around $30 - $60, but can cost less at some clinics or public healthcare offices, or through some insurance plans. If you have a regular healthcare provider, if you just call in for EC, you may not be charged at all outside the cost of the EC. If you use or have public health services or national healthcare, EC may be provided to you at a very low cost or no cost.
Remember that on average, an abortion in the US usually costs around $450 at a minimum. The cost of prenatal care and childbirth is at least a few thousand dollars (and often far more), and that is but the tip of the iceberg on what it costs to deliver and raise a child right now. To get an idea of how much money parenting costs -- just with basics like housing, healthcare, clothing, transportation and food -- take a look at this piece from the University of Minnesota. You'll notice that even in the lowest income range, with a two-income family, you're looking at a bare minimum of several hundred dollars a month for your child alone, and that those amounts tend to get higher with every year of a child's life you'd be supporting for at least 18 years.
So, $30 - $60 at a maxiumum? That's a bargain if you do not want to become pregnant and do not want either an abortion or to stay pregnant and deliver.
6) I can just go get it for my girlfriend. If you are over 17 then you can get it for her over the counter. Depending on where you live, you may be able to get Plan B over the counter at a pharmacy regardless of your age. If you live somewhere where a prescription is required, you will not be able to get that for her.
I have to tell you, just in case: if you're saying this thinking that's the thing to do every time, guy? Just passing over the EC after you skip out on the condom? Nuh-uh. You CAN use a condom every time and spare your girlfriend the days of nausea, the expense, and have something far cheaper, easier and more effective to use. Really, we only want to be using EC when another method fails or we think it may have.
7) It's hazardous to my health. Less so than regular combination pill use, which is safe for users following the instructions and who do not have health conditions of lifestyle habits which make BCPs risky to use. Plan B also does not contain estrogen, like combined hormonal methods of birth control do. Abortion carries more risks than EC, and pregnancy and delivery more risks than either. As well, unprotected sex -- which someone considering EC may have engaged in -- is far riskier to your health than EC is.
Step Two: Call your doctor, GYN, or health clinic to schedule a full STI screening one month from now. (If before that month arrives you have any strange symptoms, like foul or unusual discharges, oral or genital sores or unusual appearance, high fever or the like, call back and get in earlier.)
Step Three: Evaluate your situation for the future. If you didn't have condoms handy, go and get some and some lube to keep them working their best NOW. If you were with a partner you're familiar with, sit down and talk with them, addressing what you need to, such as using condoms, period, or using them properly -- from start to finish, for all genital contact, using lube to keep them from breaking, et cetera. If you have a partner who is blowing off their half of birth control and safer sex figuring it's all on you, I suggest you blow that partner off, full-stop. Be sure and check in with yourself as well: if having sex responsibly isn't something you can do practically or financially right now, if setting and enforcing limits is a problem, if you're putting yourself at risk for things that aren't healthy or you can't handle, take a break from partnered sex until you CAN.
8) It'll make me really sick. For plenty of people, the side effects of EC, when any are present, are not dissimilar to strong PMS symptoms. Some women don't experience any at all. People with an established pregnancy, heart conditions, blood clots or certain cancers, may not be able to use emergency contraception because those people do have increased health risks. For some people, EC causes some nausea, and for fewer people, some vomiting, but in most cases it is mild and does not last more than a day or two.
9) "But I already used it a few months ago: someone told me it stops working if you've used it before." There is nothing which supports that idea.
While EC is not a good choice for use as birth control, as used often it WOULD be expensive, and is less effective than most other reliable methods of birth control used properly, it works just as well if you've taken it three times as it will the first time you take it.
Just remember that EC is most likely to be effective, always, the sooner it is taken. It can be used within 120 hours of a risk, but the sooner it is taken, the greater chance it has to be effective, so whenever you use it, your best bet is to go out and get it the same day or the morning after you've had a risk. Better still? Next time you're at the pharmacy, pick up some emergency contraception to keep on hand (depending on where you live you can also order EC through the mail). That way, you can get EC and have it in advance, so if you do ever need it, you can take it right away without having to run around to get it.
10) But my doctor/pastor/teacher/parent TOLD me it is the same as abortion. They may just not understand pregnancy, abortion and/or emergency contraception, which isn't unusual: a lot of people don't, and plenty of people don't seek out correct information, especially if they suspect the facts would conflict with their personal belief system. They may also know it is not, but are choosing to be dishonest.
Abortion is an intentional procedure which terminates an existing pregnancy, after a viable pregnancy has occurred, which is BOTH fertilization and implantation (sometimes you can get a positive result on an early pregnancy test, then have it be negative a few days later because only fertilization happened, and a pregnancy did not complete since the egg didn't also implant: since that tends to happen to women very often, it doesn't make sense to define that as pregnancy). Emergency contraception ONLY works by PREVENTING conception and implantation -- pregnancy -- and CANNOT terminate a pregnancy, any more than taking two oral contraceptive pills could.
Some people use the term abortion, in a way that is outside it's actual definition, to describe ANYTHING, including birth control or even natural miscarriage, which interferes with a possible birth. It is possible, too then, that someone telling you EC is abortion is using the term hyperbolically in that way. However, that is counter to how abortion and pregnancy are medically defined.