A Guide to Emergency Contraception
Women seek emergency contraception options frequently and for any number of reasons: when another type of contraceptive measure has failed; after a sexual assault; or, many times, because the couple simply chose not to use a contraceptive. Yet, emergency contraception has a lot of misinformation around it. Colloquially called the “morning after pill,” emergency contraception is actually not always a pill and need not be taken the morning after.
To be clear, emergency contraception is about preventing a pregnancy before it occurs. (It is not what some call the “abortion pill.”) Because of this, emergency methods must be used within five days of intercourse, or they cannot succeed at their intended preventative purpose.
Your emergency contraception options
The Morning-After Pill
In India, the most commonly used emergency contraceptive is a pill, taken orally. It’s commonly called Plan-B abroad, and i-Pill in India, though there are several major brands with the same pharmacological composition (150 micrograms of levonorgestrel). One dose — one pill — of these over-the-counter drugs is enough to prevent a pregnancy. (There are also some contraceptives of two pills available, with 75 micrograms of levonorgestrel per pill, meant to be taken 12 hours apart. But these are becoming less popular than the one-dose version.)
Depending on when in the menstrual cycle it’s taken, the pill works either by preventing ovulation or by preventing implantation of a fertilized egg in the uterus. The pill must be taken less than 5 days from the date of intercourse in order to be effective.
In India, i-Pill and its equivalents are sold over the counter, and usually cost less than 100 Rupees. They are widely available, except in some instances where misguided social campaigns have tried to keep birth control options away from women. If taken at the appropriate time, they should be 75-90% effective at preventing pregnancy (they are more effective the closer they’re taken to the time of intercourse). And these pills cause almost no side effects (except for the possibility of a little spotting).
Doctors warn that the levonorgestrel pill should not be used a regular form of birth control; it should be used sparingly. Other forms of regular birth control are safer for routine and repeated use.
IUD or “Copper-T”
Non-hormonal intra-uterine devices, also sometimes called “copper-T’s,” are the most effective form of emergency birth control as long as they are inserted within a week of intercourse. However — the IUD comes with its own set of obstacles: It must be inserted and removed by a doctor, and is intended for use as a long-term birth control solution. So from an ease and accessibility perspective, it doesn’t come close to a pill.
That said, it is 99.9% at preventing pregnancy if inserted within seven days of intercourse. We spoke to a Mumbai obstetrician, who told us that none of his private practice patients have ever asked for an IUD as an emergency contraceptive; IUD’s are used more frequently as an emergency measure for victims of sexual assault in government hospitals in India, he said.