Emergency Contraceptive Pills


Christian Contraception: Providing up-to-date contraception information for the Christian community.

What are emergency contraceptive pills?

Emergency contraception is any kind of birth control that is used after sex, but before implantation of the embryo into the uterus. Emergency contraceptive pills (ECPs) are marketed in the US under the name "Plan B." There is another drug called "Preven" that is similar to Plan B, but was discontinued in 2004. Emergency contraceptive pills require a prescription. ECPs consist of the same synthetic hormones found in oral contraceptives. ECPs are taken ideally within 72 hours of unprotected intercourse by women who do not want to become pregnant.

How do emergency contraceptive pills work?

Emergency contraceptive pills are believed to work through multiple mechanisms. If the woman has not yet ovulated, the drug prevents ovulation. It may also prevent fertilization by making it harder for the sperm to reach the egg. If fertilization has already happened, emergency contraception will prevent implantation of the embryo.

The woman will usually take a pregnancy test and receive a negative result before being prescribed the pills. If the test is negative, then the regimen will proceed with a first dose taken right away and another dose twelve hours later. However, a negative test result indicates that the woman is probably not pregnant from intercourse during her previous monthly cycle, but it is too soon to tell whether conception occurred from intercourse within the previous 72 hours.

How effective are emergency contraceptive pills?


Effective Per Use

After a single act of intercourse, on average the pregnancy rate would be 8% with no contraception. In clinical trials, the risk of pregnancy was reduced to 1%. Thus, Plan B reduced the expected number of pregnancies by 89%. However, it should be noted that the effectiveness found in real-life is never quite as good as in clinical trials, so the effectiveness could be somewhat less. Also the drug is less effective if taken more than 72 hours later.

Side-effects and health risks of emergency contraceptive pills:

The most common side-effects in the clinical trials for women receiving Plan B included nausea (23%), abdominal pain (18%), fatigue (17%), headache (17%), dizziness (11%), menstrual changes (26%), breast tenderness (11%), vomiting (5.6%), and diarrhea (5%).

Considerations for Christians:

Most medical organizations define pregnancy as beginning with implantation. By this definition anything that prevents implantation is still considered contraception. However, life begins when fertilization occurs, so Christians would consider emergency contraception an abortifacient -- a drug that causes a very early abortion.

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Source for Medical Facts: Manufacturer's Prescribing Information for Plan B (Levonorgestrel) tablets, 0.75 mg. Mfg. by Gedeon Richter, Ltd., Budapest, Hungary for Duramed Pharmaceuticals, Inc., Subsidiary of Barr Pharmaceuticals, Inc., Pomona, NY 10970. Revised Feb 2004. BR-038 / 21000382503 (pdf)

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