Plan B: What You Need To Know

It’s tiny yet powerful, and now, it’s more accessible than ever. Back in June, the Obama administration dropped its appeal of a judge’s order that required Plan B, also known as the morning-after pill, to be available to all women without a prescription. Now, it can be found on pharmacy shelves—no prescription required.

Prior to the ruling, Plan B had been available without a prescription to women 17 years and older, but formal doctors’ orders were required in order for women younger than 17 to obtain the emergency contraception. Because of the ruling, however, women of all ages are now able to buy Plan B over the counter without a prescription, meaning that girls younger than 17 can obtain Plan B without consent from a parent or doctor.

This pivotal policy change has sparked widespread debate about the use of Plan B by women of all ages. In light of the issue, we here at HC are bringing you all the facts about Plan B, so that you can make an informed decision about purchasing and using the emergency contraceptive.


What is the morning-after pill?

Charlotte*, a junior at the University of North Carolina, had a wild weekend with her boyfriend that left both of them concerned about the risk of potential pregnancy. She wasn’t on birth control at the time, and the couple worried that their only method of contraception – condoms – had failed. She hadn’t missed her period yet, but they worried nonetheless. So within a couple of days, her boyfriend suggested Plan B.

Rachel*, also a junior at UNC, had missed a couple of pills in her birth control cycle when she had sex with her boyfriend. Worried and confused, she told her boyfriend about the issue and decided to take Plan B that very night.

Charlotte and Rachel both found themselves in common situations for modern collegiettes. Whether your partner’s condom broke, you missed a birth control pill, or you were just too drunk to think about using protection (a big no-no, collegiettes!), unprotected sex can – and does – occur for a number of reasons. But you do have options, such as Plan B.

Plan B and Plan B One-Step are the most common form of emergency contraception. Although Plan B and Plan B One-Step are often used interchangeably to refer to the popular method of back-up birth control, there is one fundamental difference between them: Plan B consists of two pills, each containing 0.75 milligrams of levonorgestrel and taken 12 hours apart, whereas Plan B One-Step consists of one pill (as the name so cleverly suggests), which contains the entire dose of 1.5 milligrams of levonorgestrel. Plan B One-Step is the newer method; it was approved by the FDA in 2009 to replace the two-dose regimen, and is now the brand of emergency contraception most recommended by OB/GYNs in the United States.

Taking emergency contraception is a serious decision, yet it is often made quickly and without much consideration. Charlotte herself admits doing little research prior to taking the pill.

“I didn’t read about any of the risks before taking it,” she says. “At the time, pregnancy seemed to be a bigger issue than any of the potential risks.”

To keep you informed about Plan B, we consulted Erin Zabel, vice president of external affairs at Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Virginia.


How does it work?

Plan B is essentially a highly concentrated form of hormonal birth control. “Basically, it gives your body a big dose of what’s called progestin, which is what your body produces during pregnancy,” Zabel explains. “That’s basically how normal birth control typically works, too—by tricking your body into thinking you’re already pregnant so that you don’t ovulate.”

By preventing ovulation, Plan B prevents the fertilization or implantation of an egg in a woman’s uterus. Depending on where a woman is in her cycle when she takes Plan B, however, the pill can also use other methods to prevent pregnancy.

“What it will also do is thin the lining of your uterus or thicken the cervical mucous,” Zabel says. “So there are a number of ways to make it more difficult for you to become pregnant even if for some reason you do ovulate.”

It’s important to understand that as a highly concentrated form of hormonal birth control, Plan B will only prevent pregnancy. It is not the abortion pill, and it will not terminate an existing pregnancy.

“Because it’s progestin and that’s what your body is already creating in pregnancy, if you are already pregnant at that point, it’s not going to affect the pregnancy,” Zabel says.