Even if you have an established birth control plan, accidents happen. If you've had unprotected sex and your birth control method failed, there are still options available to prevent or terminate pregnancy.

The Morning-After Pill

The morning-after pill is a safe and effective way to prevent pregnancy before it occurs. Plan B, ella, and Next Choice are the three main brands of FDA-approved morning-after pills on the market. Even though they have the nickname "morning after," this type of emergency contraception can actually be used up to five days after unprotected sex.

Many people believe the morning-after pill causes an abortion, but this is absolutely not true. The hormone in the morning after pill is progestin, which blocks ovulation, prevents sperm from entering the vagina by increasing the viscosity of mucus in the cervix, and atrophies the lining of the uterus to prevent implantation. In fact, the morning-after pill contains the same hormones found in birth control pills that prevent or delay ovulation. (Note: A completely different medication, known as misoprostol, can be given to terminate existing pregnancies. This is distinct from the morning after pill and the two treatments should not be confused.)

Effectiveness

The morning after pill is 89 percent effective in preventing pregnancy even when taken within 72 hours of unprotected sex, but it is even more effective the sooner you take it. Despite its effectiveness, the morning-after pill should not be used as a regular birth control method. It can cause side effects including nausea, irregular bleeding, dizziness, and headaches. Ongoing and long-term birth control methods are safer and more effective. 

The morning-after pill is available for purchase at most drugstores and healthcare centers without a prescription for men and women age 17 and older. If you have trouble getting emergency contraception from your pharmacy, contact Planned Parenthood for assistance.

ParaGard IUD

The ParaGard Intra-Uterine Device (IUD) can be used as emergency contraception as well. The device must be inserted into the uterus within five days after unprotected sex and is more than 99 percent effective in preventing pregnancy. However, unlike the morning-after pill, a healthcare provider must administer the IUD. Learn more about IUDs.

Abortion

An unplanned pregnancy is an extremely sensitive and difficult situation, but it is important to understand that you are not alone. Half of all pregnancies in the U.S. are accidental, and every year millions of Americans are faced with the choice between parenting, adoption, or abortion. If you are pregnant and parenting is not an option, know that you have alternatives.

Abortion is a safe, effective, and relatively common way to end a pregnancy. In fact, 1.3 million women in the U.S. have an abortion every year. While many people have philosophical or faith-based beliefs about abortion, it is perfectly legal in the United States and has been since 1973. Certain states have restrictions, including waiting periods and parental consent, and no doctor is required to perform the operation. If you have trouble finding a doctor who will perform the procedure, contact Planned Parenthood for assistance.

Regardless of political, religious, or personal philosophies surrounding abortion, if you are faced with the reality of choosing to terminate a pregnancy, it is important to learn as much as you can about the process so you can make a safe and informed decision.

There are two types of abortions—an in-clinic medical procedure and an abortion pill. Both methods essentially remove the embryo or fetus by weakening or removing the lining of the uterus. Both types of abortion are legal and safe if done in the first three months of pregnancy. A medical abortion must take place in the first nine weeks of pregnancy.

There are few risks or complications if done in the proper setting. A doctor or healthcare professional must administer an abortion. If you are pregnant and considering abortion, talk to your partner, a close family member or friend, or a counselor for help making a decision.