If you have had unprotected sex, your condom broke, you missed taking your contraceptive pill, or someone tampered with your contraception during the last five days, you should access emergency contraception as soon as possible if you haven't already.
The most common form of emergency contraception in Australia is a single pill available over the counter without a prescription. It's sometimes referred to as the 'morning after pill', although it can be taken up to five days after unprotected sex.
The emergency contraceptive pill (EC) works by delaying ovulation, the release of an egg from an ovary. This prevents sperm from reaching the egg, thereby preventing pregnancy.
Sometimes it is claimed that EC is in fact an early abortion pill, but this is incorrect. EC works to prevent pregnancy - it's not effective if pregnancy has already occurred.
There are two different types of EC pill available in Australia as over the counter medications:
1. A 1.5mg single dose levonorgestrel pill (LNG-ECP), licensed for use up to 72 hours (three days) after unprotected sex. It is approximately 85% effective if taken within this timeframe. There are many brands and generic versions available in Australia.
2. A 30mg single dose ulipristal acetate (UPA) pill, licensed for use up to 120 hours (five days) after unprotected sex. It is approximately 98% effective if taken within this timeframe. There is currently only one brand of ulipristal acetate on the market, EllaOne®.
If you are under 16 years of age you may require a prescription from a doctor to access the EC pill. You can get one from a GP, sexual health service, or emergency department of your local hospital.
If you're buying it over the counter without a prescription, the pharmacist may ask you a series of questions or give you a form to fill out to ascertain if you should or can take the emergency contraceptive pill. If you are uncomfortable with discussing this in the pharmacy, you might want to ask if there is a more private space available to talk with the pharmacist.
Some pharmacists refuse to provide emergency contraception because it goes against their religious beliefs. This does not give them the right to lecture you about your sexual health or your relationships, or to make you feel like a bad person for trying to prevent a pregnancy. If you've had an experience like this, feel free to give us a call if you'd like to talk about it. It's important to perservere in these cases and try another pharmacy - don't let a poor attitude from one pharmacist put you off seeking help elsewhere.
A copper IUD (intrauterine contraceptive device) can also be used as emergency contraception if it is inserted within 5 days of unprotected sex. It is more effective than the emergency contraceptive pill but it can be more difficult and more expensive to access. IUDs need to be inserted by trained GPs or sexual health professionals. Check with your GP or call True Relationships and Reproductive Health (formerly Family Planning Qld) to enquire about IUD insertion.
More detailed information on both these options for emergency contraception is available on this Family Planning NSW factsheet.