In January 2001 the progestogen-only emergency pill became available over the counter to women aged 16 and over. The Family Planning Association explains how it works and the alternatives
Organisations like the FPA, have long campaigned for emergency contraception to be readily available through pharmacies. Contraception isn't 100% effective, it's not always used well and sometimes we take risks, so unplanned pregnancies are a fact of life.
In 1999, 800,000 women used emergency contraception, many of them were married or in long-term relationships. Having said that, the UK has the highest rate of teenage pregnancies in Europe, and emergency contraception has to be one way of addressing that problem.
To be effective, you need emergency contraception within 72 hours of unprotected sex. Waiting over the weekend, or for a doctor's appointment during the week, makes it less effective.
A vociferous minority believe that over the counter availability of the emergency pill is a step too far. Fearing that promiscuity will increase and morals decline, Baroness Young took her crusade to the House of Lords in January 2001 to try to halt sales of the pill, but her motion was defeated by a pragmatic majority.
Pharmacists now sell Levonelle, he emergency contraceptive, all over the country for about £20 a pack, or you can get it free from your GP, Family Planning Clinic or NHS walk in clinic.
Emergency contraception (EC) isn't new
It's been available since the mid 1970s and has been shown to be safe and effective. However, it shouldn't be used in place of regular ongoing contraception such as the Pill, condoms, the cap or IUD.
There are two methods of EC:
Emergency hormonal pills (better known by the misnomer 'morning after pill')
The copper IUD
Emergency hormonal pills
There are two different types:
Progestogen-only pills - a packet of two pills
Combined (oestrogen and progestogen) - a packet of four pills.
Today, women seeking hormonal emergency contraception should always be given progestogen-only EC (known as Levonelle in the UK). In some parts of the country and abroad, the combined hormonal method (known as Schering PC4) may still be prescribed, but this will probably be discontinued in the UK sometime during 2001.