Is it too late to take emergency contraception?

Dear Alice,

My boyfriend and I had an "accident" Friday morning, around 3 a.m. We are not doing well economically, so we have been looking for a free clinic that is open on the weekend. We didn't have much luck finding anything yesterday or today. The only option I have is to wait until Monday morning, when the local free clinic opens where I can get a Plan B contraceptive free. My question is, will it be too late and will I get pregnant?

The 72-hour time limit is over Monday at 3 a.m., but clinics don't open until about 8 a.m.!

Dear Reader,

Accidents such as these certainly happen and can be quite distressing. Emergency contraception (EC) is a very effective method of pregnancy prevention, yet it sounds like you're concerned about stretching the time limit for its effectiveness. Well, you're in luck. It’s true that most EC is more likely to work if you take it very soon after sex that occurs when a birth control method failed or wasn't used. It’s best within the 72-hour window, about 89 percent effective. But it doesn't expire after 72 hours — it may still be effective for as long as five days (120 hours) after having sex. The exact effectiveness that many days after isn't fully known, partially because there are many other factors besides when the EC was taken, such as age or regularity of periods, that may influence its effectiveness. But you will be taking it just after the 72-hour window, so you may still fall within that 89 percent time period.

Plan B® and other generic one-pill formulations of EC can be found on the shelves at your local drugstores and pharmacies. No prescriptions are needed and there are no age restrictions to purchase them. Depending on the pharmacy, ECs generally cost anywhere from $35.00 to $60.00 in the United States. It may be helpful to consider that while a clinic may offer free services and free EC, they may charge a fee to see a health care provider. So, it may be worth going directly to a pharmacy — not only because you could get EC more quickly, but also because you could bypass the fee at the clinic. Some other reduced cost or no cost options to get EC may be:

  • If you are a college student, your university’s student health office may offer EC options for free or reduced cost.
  • Depending on your state of residence, you may be able to order EC from online pharmacies at a lower cost than brick-and-mortar pharmacies.
  • It's possible that your health insurance may cover some or all of the cost of EC. Check with your insurance provider to find out if it's covered under your plan.
  • If you live in one of the five boroughs of New York City, EC is available 24 hours a day at any public hospital for free.
  • Check for manufacturer's coupons. For example, the Plan B site frequently offers coupons.

In the future, you might also consider picking up an extra dose to keep at home so that you can take it as soon as possible if needed (it’s never a bad idea to have a backup option for your birth control!)

There are other “morning after” pregnancy prevention options out there too. If you are in need of EC and are also considering an effective, long-term method of birth control, you might consider the intrauterine device (IUD). An IUD can be inserted up to 120 hours after sex to prevent pregnancy, but it requires a visit to your health care provider. For more information about EC and other long-term birth control methods, check out the Contraception category in the Go Ask Alice! archives.

Last updated May 27, 2022
Originally published Apr 10, 2014

Submit a new comment


This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.

The answer you entered for the CAPTCHA was not correct.